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Artificial languages for Hollywood … and women?

December 12, 2011

12language2-popupHere is a report on a Hollywood artificial language (I have not seen the programs in question, Game of Thrones, but hope to watch them on DVD at some point.)

At his best friend’s wedding reception on the California coast, David J. Peterson stood to deliver his toast as best man. He held his Champagne glass high and shouted “Hajas!” The 50 guests raised their glasses and chanted “Hajas!” in unison.

The word, which means “be strong” and is pronounced “hah-DZHAS,” has great significance for Mr. Peterson. He invented it, along with 3,250 other words (and counting), in the language he created for the HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” called Dothraki.

Some people build model railroads or re-enact Civil War battles; Mr. Peterson, a 30-year-old who studied linguistics at the University of California, San Diego, is a “conlanger,” a person who constructs new languages. Until recently, this mostly quixotic linguistic pursuit, born out of a passion for words and grammatical structures, lived on little-visited Web sites or in college dissertations.

Today, a desire in Hollywood to infuse fantasy and science-fiction movies, television series and video games with a sense of believability is driving demand for constructed languages, complete with grammatical rules, a written alphabet (hieroglyphics are acceptable) and enough vocabulary for basic conversations.

In “Game of Thrones,” Dothraki-speaking characters greet each other by saying “M’athchomaroon!” (hello) give each other commands like “Azzohi haz khogare” (put down that cask) and occasionally utter sentiments like “Vezh fin saja rhaesheseres vo zigereo adoroon shiqethi!” (the stallion that mounts the world has no need for iron chairs!) that don’t seem to make sense in any language. And this being an HBO show, there’s also a fair bit of “athhilezar” (sex).

“The days of aliens spouting gibberish with no grammatical structure are over,” said Paul R. Frommer, professor emeritus of clinical management communication at the University of Southern California who created Na’vi, the language spoken by the giant blue inhabitants of Pandora in “Avatar.” Disney recently hired Mr. Frommer to develop a Martian language called Barsoomian for “John Carter,” a science-fiction movie to arrive in March.

The shift is slowly transforming the obscure hobby of language construction into a viable, albeit rare, career and engaging followers of fantasies like “Lord of the Rings,” “Game of Thrones” and “Avatar” on a more fanatical level.

At “Game of Thrones” viewing parties in San Francisco, fans rewatched Dothraki scenes to study the language in a workshop-like setting. Last October, a group of Na’vi speakers from half a dozen countries convened in Sonoma County, Calif., for a gathering known as “Teach the Teachers.” Mr. Frommer gave attendants tips on grammar and vocabulary and fielded any questions they had about the language. The rural, wooded setting felt “almost like being on Pandora,” he said. At a question-and-answer session in July that he participated in, at least a dozen attendants rattled off their questions in fluent Na’vi….

Several scenes in the first season of “Game of Thrones” take place entirely in Dothraki with English subtitles. In one episode the shirtless tribal leader Khal Drogo delivered a monologue for two and a half minutes in Dothraki, with its subject-verb-object structure and no copula, or linking verb….

There are links to several web sites on artificial languages given in the article:  Dothraki and Na’vi.  More intriguing is a reference to this (rather sexist) language:

Suzette Haden Elgin created Láaden as a language better suited for expressing women’s points of view. (Láaden has a word, “bala,” that means “I’m angry for a reason but nothing can be done about it.”)

Here is a web site devoted to Láaden .

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