When the misogynistic, male Dothraki characters launch into curse-laden tirades on "Game of Thrones," viewers have a 35-year-old Southern California father and a University of California Berkeley graduate to thank for what they hear.
David J. Peterson invented Dothraki, the language spoken by the crass race of nomadic horse warriors first described in George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice," on which the HBO series is based. "It's a lot of fun," Peterson said Tuesday, in his first, interactive Facebook Live interview. Especially coming up with the curse words, he added.
Peterson has been working for "Game of Thrones" since 2009. The language was used frequently in the show's first two seasons, and has resurfaced in season 6, which premiered in April. Peterson has created 4,000 Dothraki words — so many that he’s not even fluent in his own language.
Peterson never expected to be paid to create fake languages.
"I wanted to be an English teacher," the Garden Grove, Calif.-resident said. "My mother cued me into linguistics. I wasn’t really interested, but she nagged me to try."
He had studied and invented languages in near obscurity since 2000, when he was a sophomore at UC Berkeley.
"There are thousands of people who create languages for fun," he said. "It's a different art form. We were all were quite certain no one would be paid. It wasn’t an activity people looked on kindly."
His friend, Sai, also was flabbergasted that his pal made "conlanging" a career.
"David is the first full-time professional conlanger ever," Sai said, referring to someone who invents language. When the two started out, pretty much every conlanger thought getting paid for the work was "so completely unrealistic."
That dream turned to a paying reality seven years ago, when the "Game of Thrones" creators called upon the Language Creation Society, which Peterson co-founded, to come up with a fully formed language for the show. There was an "intense" contest, Peterson remembered with about 40 other contestants. Peterson won. And the "Dothraki" and "Valyrian" languages were born. The languages are not based in any other language, like the Romantic or Semitic languages. "That would be like plagiarism," Peterson said, who says he "just comes up with" new words, without having a specific process.
He now creates languages for a handful of shows. He's the "alien language and culture consultant" for the Syfy original series "Defiance" in 2011, and also for NBC's "Emerald City."
And while he won’t say how much he gets paid, Peterson did say those are his only jobs, and there’s no need to wait tables on the side. He makes enough to support his wife, Erin, who is the executive director of the Long Beach Bar Association, and 5-month-old daughter, Meridian.
Before "Game of Thrones," the Long Beach native had quietly studied the finer arts of language from 1999 to 2003, earning a bachelor's in English and linguistics from Cal. He then attended UC San Diego from 2003 to 2006, where he earned a masters in linguistics. Peterson also speaks Spanish, French, German, Russian, Esperanto, Arabic and American Sign Language.
He's an author, too. Peterson's latest book, "The Art of Language Invention," (Penguin $17) takes readers on a journey of the languages he's created for television and film, including Dothraki, High Valyrian, Castithan, Irathient, Indojisnen, Sondiv and Shiväisith.
If you need the video CliffsNotes, Peterson has made some YouTube videos on "conlanging," or inventing languages.
And thanks to the shows, he has some unusual notoriety.
"Every time 'Game of Thrones' comes back on, the interviews start again," Peterson said.
Learn These Dothraki Words
Addrivat (v.) to kill
Gort (adj.) muscular, stout
Hake (n.) name
Jahak (n.) braid
Karlinat (v.) to gallop (said of a horse)
Lajak (n.) warrior
Mawan (n.) quiver
Nhizo (n.) raven
Qoy (n.) blood
Vezh (n.) stallion
Zhokwa (adj.) great, large
Can You Speak Like Daenerys?