Creator of languages for TV and movies speaks at Iowa State


Jillian Alt/Iowa State Daily

David J. Peterson, the mind behind languages appearing in shows like Game of Thrones, Starcrossed, the 100, and more lectures on “The Art of Language Invention” in the Memorial Union on Monday.

Brian Mackley

Creating a language is no easy task, and it is one that is never complete, David Peterson told the Great Hall Monday.

Peterson, master and pioneer of constructing languages, presented to Iowa State students and community members Monday night in the annual Quentin Johnson Linguistics lecture.

Peterson helped kick off LAS week by helping his audience understand what all goes into the crafting of a language as well as sharing his life story and how he started creating languages.

Peterson has been creating languages since 2000 and is best known for his creation of the Dothraki and Valyrian languages for HBO’s Game of Thrones. His other works include, but are not limited to, the Shivaisith language for Marvels Thor: The Dark World, Syfy’s Defiance and Dominion, and The CW’s Star-Crossed.

He received his B.A. From University of California Berkeley and his M.A. from University of San Diego and while in college became interested in many languages like Arabic, Russian, Egyptian, and Esperanto and soon began trying to combine different types of languages and named his first one Megdevi.

He started off his lecture by explaining the intricacies of each human language and how they evolve over time making each of them exceptionally unique. When considering creating a language Peterson said it must be consistent, functional, original, and authentic and to do so he often looks at creating a string of multiple languages for many of the films he has been involved in.

During Peterson’s writing of the languages for Dothraki and Valyrian, he replicated multiple timelines for each language so it could properly fit the popular TV show’s plot.

Taking it further still, Peterson sometimes will invent sophisticated written systems for his languages.

“Writing systems are the most fun I ever have and that is why I love the shows that let me do it,” Peterson said.

To make the language more effective for each role he even takes into account accents so it can give a closer impression for whatever the language is needed for.

“You don’t get to really see that a whole lot because most of the time you’re creating a language that only one person speaks,” Peterson said.

Since new words are always being created and languages never stop being complete, Peterson explained that there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to our human languages. The fact that new information can be found everyday excites Peterson and he said it’s a lot of fun.

“It’s extremely satisfying in a number of ways, satisfying and probably frustrating for the same reasons. And it’s impossible to become perfect at it,” Peterson said.

Enthralled by the study of linguistics Peterson has been one of the superiors in the subject of constructing languages for a number of years. Along with his other achievements he in also notorious for helping co-found the Language Creation Society in 2007 for which he served as the president from 2011-2014.

In addition to celebrating Iowa State linguistics for LAS Week, Iowa State’s linguistics program is looking forward to begin offering language construction courses starting fall of 2019, where students will get the opportunity to learn hands on what its like to construct their own language.