David J. Peterson’s Valyrian in focus
By Hear Me Roar on in Press, Production.

With the increasing volume of Valyrian we hear in GoT Season Three, and going hand in hand with the still-expanding audience of the show, there has been a slew of articles and features on David J. Peterson’s (@dedalvs) constructed languages.

Here is an older one, an interview with David for Vulture from a few weeks ago. We learn there that everyone’s been pronouncing the title khaleesi the wrong way. Well, almost everyone, since I remember hearing Qotho the bloodrider back in Season One pronounce it the way David describes it should be pronounced.

BBC Radio 4 aired a short segment with David just the other day, while Time ran a nice long feature describing the whole process behind creating languages for the show. It is precise and to the point, giving a good insight into the linguistic considerations taken into account.

The High Valyrian that Daenerys speaks, for example, is different from that of her interlocutors in the slave city of Astapor, whose argot is a latter-day mix of Valyrian with the other tongues of Slaver’s Bay. Peterson stresses that a key part of inventing a language is establishing its own internal historical logic. “I made sure the language was evolved over a period of time, so that it sounded authentic and had the hallmarks of a natural language,” he says. Like any real language, Peterson’s High Valyrian and Dothraki carry in their morphology centuries of change, migration and encounters with new technology.

You can follow David’s own musings and analyses of the language tidbits we hear on the show in regular instalments on his blog. Here is an interesting snippet, pretty much suggesting that a certain prophecy will be included in the adaptation:

That said, it was very important to me that q be different. In fact, when I talked about creating Valyrian with Dan and Dave, I asked them two—and only two—questions: (1) Just how different did they want Kraznys’s dialogue to be from High Valyrian, and (2) how did they pronounce valonqarvalon-K-ar or valon-KW-ar? The answer was vitally important and would have far-reaching consequences for the phonology of High Valyrian and its descendants. Frankly, I was delighted to hear they were going with valon-K-ar.

Hear Me Roar: When it comes to language questions, I am hopeful that the show will establish two things at some point. One, explaining in what sense High Valyrian is the mother tongue of Daenerys (more like a learned common language of the elites, not unlike Latin used to be, as FaB put it concisely in this GOO podcast). Two, mention the High Valyrian versus the low, vernacular varieties that are extant in Essos. I guess both could be tackled in one of the dialogues between Dany and Missandei.


40 Comments

  1. Grijnwaald
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Hodor

    I’d love to learn it, high Valyrian that is.

  2. Nick_Scryer
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Big respect for all the actors so far that have spoken in this beautiful language. They’ve made it sound exquisite.

    And obviously, it goes without saying…To David who created it. Excellent job.

  3. Turncloak
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    The volanqar is in! Oh Cersei you are so screwed! The Hound will be the Volaqar and will send you to your death when he beats Gregorstein!

  4. The Young Wolf
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I always pronounced it valon-KW-ar. I hate being wrong.

    And I must say, Emilia’s hotness goes up 10x when she’s speaking Valyrian. So, great job David.

  5. Turncloak
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    The Young Wolf,

    Really? I’ve always pronounced it it Va-LAN-kar. the other way sounds kind of childish

  6. Walter Harrow
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    The actors on this show all deserve a lot of credit for acting in a made up language. I cant even imagine acting in a foreign language (french/german etc)

    Also, do you think they will be creating the Braavosi language for future seasons? It would be interesting to see Arya learning the language as she trains in Braavos, and i think Maisie Williams would do a great job

  7. I hate crossbows
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I guess in re-reads I’ll have to make an effort to switch to valon-K-ar. I’m still having trouble being consistent with the pronunciation of Ygritte.

  8. Turncloak
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Walter Harrow,

    We might or we might not. They speak valyrian in all of the free cities too. And it would be kind of cool to have Arya learn Valyrian

  9. Tessa_Leonie
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    High Valerian is not Mel’s mother tongue is it? Was she just speaking it out of politeness to Thoros?

  10. the other guy
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Great post, always nice to hear more about the creation of languages for the show. Also, glad to know the valonqar prophecy is in. I always pronounced it Valon-K-ar too, it just sounds right to me.

  11. Ingemar Svensson
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Tessa_Leonie:
    High Valerian is not Mel’s mother tongue is it? Was she just speaking it out of politeness to Thoros?

    My sense was more that they were implying that it was the language of the R’hllor priesthood. It would perhaps have made more sense that that would be Ashai’i but since they already have Valyrian it makes sense to make use of it.

    Also note that they were speaking High Valyrian so it has nothing directly to do with where Thoros comes from.

  12. Syrio
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Best part of the article is that GRRM is emailing him about how certain phrases would go in Valyrian while writing the next book.

  13. Marie
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    About High Valyrian online ressources, I would like to mention another web site called “The mad latinists’s journal” (sorry, I don’t know how to copy/paste the adress from my mobile phone), which is dedicated to exhaustive transcription of Valyrian and High Valyrian heard on the show. The author of this website has himself named this task “insanely nerdy”, and sometimes it gets a bit complicated but there are some very interesting aspects. Worth reading !

  14. mead
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    The High Valyrian has been an excellent addition to this season. It made Dany more powerful and Thoros and Mel more mystical.

    Thank you David!

  15. Nagga's Kin
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    David J. Peterson’s reviews of GoT episodes and how the various flavors of Valyrian are featured in it can be found on his blog

    http://www.dothraki.com

    (Evidently, he couldn’t be bother to create a new blog dedicated to Valyrian)

  16. Icebird
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Could somebody refresh my memory as to the significance of “valonqar”?

  17. Mo
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    On another note..
    here’s a must watch hilarious video review of episode 6.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VteJKW-Uij4

    Apparently there are similar videos for all of season 3 , don’t know how nobody picked up on this guy,he’s funny as hell.

  18. Marie
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    The mad latinist’s journal (I finally got the copy/paste thing) :
    http://jdm314.livejournal.com
    Very interesting post on May 2nd, where he quotes a comment from Peterson about the four genders in HV being solar, lunar, terrestrial and aquatic.

  19. Edric S.
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Melisandre responds:

    Kesys ondor avy sytilībus daor.
    “You should not have these powers.”

    And Thoros, being the good Red Priest he is, corrects her:

    Ondor emon daor. Āeksiot zȳhon vaoreznon jepin, se ziksoso udlissis.
    “I have no powers. I ask the Lord for his favor, and he responds as he will.”

    And for a bonus, he was also originally supposed to say this short bit afterwards, but the line was cut:

    Kesir gīmī.
    “You know this.”

    I think it’s interesting the D&D didn’t show that Melissandre doesn’t have any powers of her own, so when the time comes and she burn the fetuses and the kings start to die, the viewers will think that Melissandre killed them, when in reality, she only saw it in the flames and took advantage of that.

  20. Selmy
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting, Peterson did an amazing job. Can’t wait for Bravossi.

  21. Hexonx
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Icebird:
    Could somebody refresh my memory as to the significance of “valonqar”?

    From A Wiki of Ice and Fire:

    Cersei has been haunted since childhood by a prophecy made by a wise woman, Maggy the Frog, who was reputed to have magical powers. The woman correctly predicted Cersei’s marriage and mutual infidelity with a king. She went on to prophesy that Cersei would outlive all her children, who would die as kings and queens, and that after everything she had was taken away by a younger and more beautiful queen, the valonqar (High Valyrian for “little brother”) would come to end her life. Young Cersei was so terrified by this prophecy that she murdered her close friend Melara Hetherspoon, who had been present, shortly afterward to prevent her from speaking of it. She has always identified the valonqar as Tyrion, and eventually comes to worry that Margaery Tyrell might be the younger and more beautiful queen.

  22. Jentario
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Ingemar Svensson: My sense was more that they were implying that it was the language of the R’hllor priesthood. It would perhaps have made more sense that that would be Ashai’i but since they already have Valyrian it makes sense to make use of it.

    Also note that they were speaking High Valyrian so it has nothing directly to do with where Thoros comes from.

    Thoros is from Myr and Melisandre from Asshai so obviously their first languages aren’t the same. That said, a very commonly used language in Essos, especially by those traveling around the continent, is High Valiryan. To these two it’s most likely just as strong a language as Myrish and Asshai’i and when they want some private conversations they can surely use it.

  23. Walter Harrow
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I know its random, but i just wanted to point out that Charles Dance and Gwendoline Christie have just presented at the BAFTA’s

  24. Eugene Toussaint
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Turncloak,

    Jaime is the Volaqar.

  25. Juego de Tronos
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I love how high Valyrian sounds!

  26. Hexonx
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Jentario: That said, a very commonly used language in Essos, especially by those traveling around the continent, is High Valiryan. To these two it’s most likely just as strong a language as Myrish and Asshai’i and when they want some private conversations they can surely use it.

    It’s actually “low” Valyrian that is commonly used. High Valyrian is like Latin to us. While there are books and songs in High Valyrian and some may speak/understand it, it’s not commonly used.

  27. Al Swearengen
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    GOT just won a BAFTA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-)

    We beat Homeland and the Olympic Ceremony for the Radio Times public award.

  28. Darquemode
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Al Swearengen,

    Awesome news!
    I loved that Olympic ceremony, but Game of Thrones deserves the win!

  29. Tyrion Pimpslap
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Al Swearengen,

    They won the award that fans vote on. Somehow ‘Girls’ won the International Program award.

  30. Al Swearengen
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    It’s still pretty impressive considering it was up against the Olympic Ceremony which I thought would win by landslide.

    At the end of the day it’s still BAFTA which is a respected oganization worldwide. They can now promote GOT as a BAFTA winning show.

    They should have let Charles Dance accept the award his speech would have been classy.

  31. Hear Me Roar
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Nagga’s Kin,

    Yes, that’s why the info about it is in the post :) the last quote is from there as well.

  32. A-Gone
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Are we going to have The Bear and the Maiden fair – Open Thread ?

  33. Chickenduck
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Hexonx: It’s actually “low” Valyrian that is commonly used.High Valyrian is like Latin to us. While there are books and songs in High Valyrian and some may speak/understand it, it’s not commonly used.

    There isn’t a stand-alone language called “Low Valyrian” – LV refers to all of the languages descended from HV, of which there are at least ten different variants attested in the books (the 9 free cities plus Slavers Bay).

    You’re correct in that various versions of “low” Valyrian are the ones used on a day-to-day basis (Braavosi, Myrish, Astapori etc).

    However, they AREN’T what you would use as a common language between cities. Someone from Myr probably couldn’t understand e.g. Braavosi without specifically learning it.

    The elites would use High Valyrian as the language of scholarship and interregional communication – as was the case with Latin in Medieval Europe, long after it had stopped being an everyday language.

    David J Peterson actually offers a much better analogy as being Modern Arabic – the regional versions of Arabic are not intelligible with each other (a speaker of Moroccan Arabic can’t automatically understand Iraqi Arabic etc) so they switch to “Standard Arabic” to communicate. Standard Arabic is based on the language of the Koran, and is actually very different from anything people speak at home on a day to day basis… But everyone learns it at school and uses it for formal purposes (with varying levels of ability).

    As an example – in the scenes in Astapor, Dany speaks HV to Krasnys and he understands, although he answers in Astapori Valyrian. Later she speaks HV, but with some Astapori words mixed in. The same happens when she talks with Grey Worm

  34. Mike Chair
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Chickenduck,

    I am in awe of your unabashed nerdness! :-) It is quite impressive. Bravo!

    David J. Peterson is a genius.

    BTW, Winter is missing. Something is up.

  35. Adam
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    The Young Wolf:
    I always pronounced it valon-KW-ar. I hate being wrong.

    Why? I was surprised valon-KW-ar was even an option when I read this. There’s no “qu,” it’s just a “q.” Pronouncing it valon-KW-ar means your mind is inserting a “u” in there when there isn’t one.

  36. Eleanor
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think the prophecy will necessarily be in the show. Peterson said that he went through every snippet of High Valyrian in the books to derive as much internal logic from the data as he could. That data includes the word ‘valonqar’. How a u-less q is pronounced DOES have far-reaching implications for phonology, because if it’s differentiated from a written k it probably means it’s a pharyngeal stop. Or that originally it was a different sort of stop but through a process of language change came to be the same as k.

    Edited to say: Peterson explains this a lot better himself on his blog! I guessed right (though not about the phoneme – it’s uvular not pharyngeal).

  37. MyBFFTheHound
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Mo:
    On another note..
    here’s a must watch hilarious video review of episode 6.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VteJKW-Uij4

    Apparently there are similar videos for all of season 3 , don’t know how nobody picked up on this guy,he’s funny as hell.

    OH MY GOD. It’s the “fish in the barrel”-german! Him doing GOT-reviews is so random, but so, so funny.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63Y5XjlO4vk

  38. Chickenduck
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Mike Chair:
    Chickenduck,

    I am in awe of your unabashed nerdness!:-)It is quite impressive.Bravo!

    David J. Peterson is a genius.

    BTW, Winter is missing.Something is up.

    Haha, thanks… Yeah, I’m a nerd, I’m a linguist by trade (currently a teacher of German, French and Mandarin by day). I’ve been very excited about the languages of Ice and Fire… But I can’t match the level of knowledge of the Mad Latinist or some of the others on David’s blog. Should check their discussion out if you want to go in deep.

  39. Justin
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Adam,

    I don’t think its as simple or obvious as you imply. In English at least I can’t think of a single word that has q without a u after it. Therefore I don’t think there is any context to make any assumption either way. In English, what leads you to think a q makes a ‘K’ sound when there is no u afterwards? Since there are no uses of q without u, I can’t see where you would get that idea. Not to mention that even words that use q with a “K” sound still have a u, such as ‘opaque’.

  40. Adam
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Justin:
    Adam,

    I don’t think its as simple or obvious as you imply.In English at least I can’t think of a single word that has q without a u after it.Therefore I don’t think there is any context to make any assumption either way.In English, what leads you to think a q makes a ‘K’ sound when there is no u afterwards?Since there are no uses of q without u, I can’t see where you would get that idea.Not to mention that even words that use q with a “K” sound still have a u, such as ‘opaque’.

    In English the “q” is always (at least as far as I know) part of a “qu,” so while I do understand the urge to gloss over a word with “q” and hear “kw” in your mind, that doesn’t mean it’s right. There are still – as far as I know – no examples where a “q” on its own has an implied “kw” sound.

    It’s just an improper porting over of our intuition from English to non-English words. “Valonqar” isn’t an English (or Common Tongue) word, but a romanization (transliteration into English script) of a foreign word. And even outside of Westeros, here in boring old Earth, plenty of languages’ romanizations use “q” for a “k” sound. I think in GRRM’s case it’s simply that “valonqar” looks cooler or more exotic – cf. the use of “q” for “k” in romanizations of foreign languages on Earth – than the alternatives, “valonkar” (ew) or “valoncar.”

    tl;dr “In English, what leads you to think a q makes a ‘K’ sound when there is no u afterwards? Since there are no uses of q without u, I can’t see where you would get that idea.” It’s not an English word. There are lots of languages which, when transliterated into Latin script, use “q” for a k sound.


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