​Soon, you too will be able to learn Dothraki

The linguist behind the language of the wild horsemen in "Game of Thrones" previews his forthcoming Dothraki primer at San Diego Comic-Con -- and offers some language lessons.

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David Peterson, who fleshed out George R.R. Martin's Dothraki language for the Game of Thrones TV show, has an upcoming guidebook on how to speak the language of the horse-warriors. Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- M'athchomaroon!

There are few people in the world besides language consultant David Peterson who know that word means "hello." But come October, "Game of Thrones" fans will have a chance to learn that and the 4,000 or so other words in Dothraki, the language spoken by the nomadic horse-riding warriors of the hit series.

That's enough to have a conversation in the imaginary language, the goal of "Living Language Dothraki." It's a conversation language course based on the HBO series that will offer grammar lessons, pronunciation guides, vocabulary, and cultural notes that explain things such as why it's bad for Dothrakis to call one another ifak. The Living Language series of conversational language books has been around for 65 years.

Currently, there are around 150 people who can speak Dothraki on the Tongues of Ice and Fire Wiki. "Living Language Dothraki" will include 200 words and phrases, and go on sale for $19.99 on October 7. An expanded online course costs another $10, and the mobile app adds $3.99.

"When it comes to living languages, there's so much more beyond Europe," Peterson told CNET. He's a fan of languages from Southeast Asia, and West Africa languages such as Housa, but Dothraki is one of his favorites.

"I always like Dothraki because it's non-European," he said. Peterson is fluent in English and Spanish, speaks five more languages at varying levels of proficiency, and has also studied Acadian and Hindi.

The lesson that he gave Friday morning at the San Diego Hilton Bayfront hotel focused on a common first lesson for the Living Language series: pronunciation. While Dothraki's roots, Peterson explained, are mostly in Arabic and Spanish, the language has only four vowel sounds, and relies on a Spanish-style trilling of the tongue when pronouncing the letter R.

"It's great for picking people up," he joked.

Creating languages is nothing new for Peterson, although Dothraki is the first he ever invented that was based directly on somebody else's work. He's worked on the SyFy channel's "Defiance" and "Dominion" shows, and on the CW's "Star-Crossed," but Dothraki is now the largest one he's ever worked on. Originally created by George R.R. Martin in the books that "Game of Thrones" is based on, "A Song of Ice and Fire," Peterson told CNET that he kept the structure of the language as Martin invented it in the books.

"George R.R. Martin did an incredible job for someone who says he's not a language guy," said the 33-year-old Peterson.

Peterson, who holds a master's degree in linguistics from the University of California at San Diego, is a long-time Hollywood linguist. A co-founder of the Language Creation Society, Peterson has spent the past 14 years creating languages.

After studying the few Dothraki words that Martin created in the books, Peterson set about building the language. The Dothraki people of the series have no writing system and no books. Their lives are centered on horses, hunting, and fighting, so Peterson kept their language culturally appropriate.

To ask, "How are you," you say, "Hash yer dothrae chek," which literally translates as "Do you ride well?" There are multiple words for killing, depending on whether the killer is a human, an animal, or an inanimate object such as a rock falling.

The worst insult between Dothraki, Peterson said, was to call another Dothraki an "ifak," because its root is derived from the verb "to walk." Literally, in Dothraki, "one who does not ride," keeping with the cultural origins, saying that one probably will get your head cut off by an arakh, a curved sword.

 

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