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Game of Thrones: experts in Dothraki language come to Cambridge


By Alex Spencer


Anyone hearing the words "Finne zhavvorsa anni," at the weekend should have watched their back - it was a Dothraki booming “Where are my dragons?”

Game of Thrones lingo Dothraki was ringing out across Cambridge at the weekend as the world’s experts in fictional language creation descended on the city.

Fantasy language conference, Science centre atrium, Anglia Ruskin University. From left centre Dr Joseph W Windsor, Bettina Beinhoff and Seumas Dòmhnallach. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13042201)
Fantasy language conference, Science centre atrium, Anglia Ruskin University. From left centre Dr Joseph W Windsor, Bettina Beinhoff and Seumas Dòmhnallach. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13042201)

Their skills have been in high demand in recent years thanks to the phenomenal success of Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and, more recently, Game of Thrones.

And they came to swap notes at the eighth Language Creation Conference at Anglia Ruskin University at the weekend.

Organiser Dr Bettina Beinhoff, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at ARU, says there are some basic rules for a constructed language.

“First of all, it should work for the character it supports, so it needs to be credible and well developed, with a history that convincingly explains the structures of the language,” said Dr Beinhoff.

“It should be based on solid linguistic principles and it also needs to sound good. Some conlangs sound really enchanting, such as Naʼvi and Elvish. The key thing is that it supports the storytelling and therefore enhances the viewing experience. Dothraki has lots of harsh sounds in it to reflect their harsh culture.

“I think we’re all becoming a little more sophisticated in our viewing habits and so we come to expect additional layers of authenticity that these languages can bring to a film or programme. People speaking English in funny accents isn’t quite good enough nowadays.”

Fantasy language conference, Science centre atrium, Anglia Ruskin University. From left Bettina Beinhoff, Seumas Dòmhnallach and Dr Joseph W Windsor. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13042210)
Fantasy language conference, Science centre atrium, Anglia Ruskin University. From left Bettina Beinhoff, Seumas Dòmhnallach and Dr Joseph W Windsor. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13042210)

The event was the Language Creation Society’s bi-annual conference, where Dr Beinhoff, chaired the panel discussion “Conlangs in Popular Fiction”. She says Dr Beinhoff says that the recent surge in interest in constructed languages isn’t all down to Game of Thrones, which features two languages – Dothraki and Valyrian – both created by ‎conlang expert David J. Peterson.

Game of Thrones dragon Pic: Adrian Bennett
Game of Thrones dragon Pic: Adrian Bennett

“Languages have been constructed since ancient times and the first recorded constructed languages we know of is Hildegard von Bingen’s Lingua Ignota from the 12th century,” explained Dr Beinhoff. “But creating languages, or conlanging, really started to take off with the birth of the internet, which meant that people recognised there were whole communities of people across the world who shared this interest.

“Some people create languages purely as a hobby and for fun, for others it is an art form or a way of expressing a facet of their identity. For some, however, it is increasingly becoming a source of income with requests for constructed languages coming from authors as well as film and TV producers who recognise that their characters need to speak a new language to be credible to the audiences.”

Handy Dothraki phrases:

Anha vazhak yeraan thirat. I will let you live.

Asshekhqoyi vezhvena! Happy birthday! (Great day of blood.)

M'athchomaroon! simple greeting (With respect!)

Fichas jahakes moon! Get him! (Take his braid!) Used when encouraging fellow fighters.

Finne zhavvorsa anni? “Where are my dragons?



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