Like Klingon before it, the languages of George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (better known to many in its televisual form, ‘Game of Thrones’) have a peculiar mode of construction, being partly generated by individuals and partly crowdsourced.

The Klingon language was, as originally presented in the first ‘Star Trek’ movie, a mere collection of guttural grunts. However, the producers of the movie series later contracted professional linguist Dr Marc Okrand to help them transform these grunts into the basis of a functioning language.

Okrand’s text derived from this work, 1985’s Klingon Dictionary, was an unexpected publishing success, selling over 300,000 copies, and resulted in the creation of a fan community who, like many Tolkien fans beforehand, were keen to develop their fandom into a linguistic arena.

By the early 1990s, this had developed into a formal Klingon Language Institute, where fans worked alongside Dr Okrand in generating not only additional lexis, but entire ‘translations’ of existing works of literature, including famously ‘Hamlet’ ‘in the original Klingon’.

This hybrid creation paradigm has extended into the arena of Westeros also. While George R.R. Martin obviously originated the idea of languages like Dothraki and Valyrian, and included a few gnomic phrases of both in his novels, it was not until the televisual adaptation by David Benioff and Dan Weiss that a professional linguist was hired to develop these fragments into working languages.

David Peterson, of the Language Creation Society, an organisation dedicated to the art and practice of creating invented languages, was recruited for this task, and quickly developed basic functioning languages of both Dothraki, the tongue of the nomadic horselords, and Old High Valyrian, the language of a long-lost high civilisation in Essos. Peterson has since moved on to work as language creation consultant on a number of other television programmes also.

In a similar process to the development of Klingon, Peterson’s (and Martin’s) creations have grown beyond their originator and become a passionate interest for many fans. Websites proliferate online which offer to teach people these growing languages.

Peterson’s background as originator of the Language Creation Society has perhaps inspired this process of crowdsourced proliferation of invented languages. Equally, this may simply be a product of the mutuality format of globalised fandom. Or there may be other explanations, and we would be keen to know more.

If you have a theory about how invented languages come about, please consider submitting an abstract for our conference on the 18th of March in Coventry. Details and the call for papers can be found in the archives of this blog.


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