Book Announcement

I’m pleased to announce today that I have reached an agreement with Viking Penguin to write a book on language creation called: The Art of Language Invention. Needless to say, this is a dream come true. :) I’m working with editor Elda Rotor, and am basically going to put as much into this book as they’ll let me stuff in there (and if I can’t fit something in, hopefully it will serve as material for future work). There will be some material from the Game of Thrones and Defiance languages—as well as from languages by other conlangers—but the focus will be on the nuts and bolts of language design. No single book can make you an expert, but my hope is that after working through this one, you’ll know where to start if you want to create a language, what questions to ask, and where to research if you need more.

On my end, I’m being represented by Joanna Volpe from New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc., and for that I have to thank Leigh Bardugo, author of Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm of the Grisha Trilogy, plus the capper, Ruin and Rising, coming out June 3rd (my mother’s birthday!). Those who’ve been following this blog before it even existed will remember Leigh as having attended the first ever presentation on Dothraki back at WorldCon in 2011, and having a word coined in her honor. She now has two, of course (bardugon is the verb for “to write” in High Valyrian), but it means a lot to me that Leigh has remembered me over the years (lol it’s literally been years. That’s crazy), and was able to help me out here. Leigh is veiled in cascading swaths of fabulousness, but underneath it all, she’s a wonderful and kind person, and I’m happy to have her as a friend. (Of course, she’s wonderful and kind even if you don’t know her, so when it comes to Leigh, it’s really win-win.)

Of direct relevance to this blog is the fact that I’m going to be taking a serious step back—something regular readers may have already noticed, since this process started last year. I’ve got one more major High Valyrian post coming, but after that there may be next to nothing here for several months. I’ve got a big job ahead of me, and I’m going to need to take the time to do it, because I want to give this book my best work. I may come back and do my weekly Game of Thrones recaps depending on how my workflow goes, but I may not. It depends how the next couple months go. Either way, 2015 should be an exciting year—and should be a lot less busy for me—so I’ll definitely return to regular posting here in the future.

I want to say a big thank you to those who read this blog regularly, those who’ve been following me on Twitter and Tumblr and who’ve expressed interest in the Game of Thrones and Defiance languages, and those everywhere who in general have supported the TV and movie franchises that have used created languages. The fact of the matter is this book wouldn’t have become a reality if no one cared. There would be no languages for Defiance or other shows like Star-Crossed and Dominion if the fans weren’t interested in there being any—or worse, if they hated them. I know that a number of people wanted a book from me dedicated specifically to Dothraki, specifically to High Valyrian, specifically to Castithan, etc., and that this isn’t that. This is a first step, though. If this project goes well—if I do a good job and the book sells well—it may open the gates for further work—and not just by me, but by other conlangers. Hopefully this is the start of something big, not the conclusion of a movement.

Either way, I feel incredibly privileged to be in this position. Of course I wouldn’t be here without the Language Creation Society, and the Language Creation Society wouldn’t have been in the position it was without Arika Okrent—but, of course, Arika Okrent wouldn’t have sent Dave and Dan to the Language Creation Society if she hadn’t attended the Second Language Creation Conference, and there would be no Language Creation Conference if the conlang community (and specifically the Conlang Listserv) hadn’t come together to make it happen. This project is dedicated to the community that produced me. I hope I make them proud.


  1. Congratulations! It will be nice to get someone other than Mark Rosenfelder writing for conlangers—his work is fantastic, of course, but any topic benefits from having more than one author! Heheh, and now whenever a journalist inevitably asks you how you do what you do you can plug your book!

    I had hope your recent uptick of blog (and social media) activity meant that you were coming back, but I guess it is precisely the opposite. Well, your work is hands-down more important, but it will be a real shame if you wind up unable to do your weekly GoT posts! (It will also make my “job” of analyzing the weekly Valyrian much, much harder!)

    But let the chips fall where they may. Īlot egliot—udriri verdiroti, verdaroti, verdilaroti—aōhi biarvī manaeragon!

  2. Great news! Looking forward to that book.

    I agree with ML; hopefully we’ll get your weekly updates back once the season launches…? On the upside, maybe if you’re that busy, some larger-scale conlanging job might slip through your net for a change… ;)

    If you’re interested in using any Catharsis Fonts, I’ll try to get you a free print and e-Book license (not sure whether MyFonts is up for the latter, though). Octant fits the “construction” theme, for instance. ;)

  3. Congratulations! I’m sure that even if Dothraki and Valyrian aren’t featured that heavily, there’ll still be stuff that would not easily come up on this blog or IRC.

  4. Congrats, David. As long as you actually translate what David and Dan send you, I won’t mind so much if it doesn’t come up here. Best of luck to you sir. You’re a genius.

  5. Athdavrazar, zhey David!! That is really exciting news! I expect that whatever you come up with for your book will be nothing short of excellence. I fully expect your book to become the new ‘gold standard’ in crating a conlang. I’m sure we will all miss you while you are working on it, but the results will be very much worth the wait! And when it does come out, I’ll make special time to read it. (I do hope you will still stop by the blog, IRC chat, etc. every now and then just so we know you are OK!) (And I’m sure your editor Elda Rotor will help you put a good ‘spin’ on things ;) ).

    Its hard to imagine that WorldCon was already that long ago. It still seems like yesterday!

    (And if you need anything in Na’vi for the book, you who to contact ;) )


  6. Good news: Target posted a preview video from the S3 Blu-ray animated featurettes, on the Battle of Qohor:

    Unfortunately it contains no Dothraki or Valyrian. The artwork is even better than last time, but it doesn’t introduce any particularly major terms not already established in the TV continuity. Really, though, the animation quality is so good it’s practically a motion comic, and surprisingly dramatic.

    Question: sometimes different sides have different names for battles. Did the Dothraki have a different name for the Battle of Qohor?

    I’m thinking of how, say, the Franks called it the “Battle of Tours” while the Muslims called it the “Battle of the Martyrs” (which I thought kind of odd, given that if you think about it, every battle has “martyrs” so how would you distinguish that from the other ones?)

    Also, what would the Dothraki term for Unsullied be?
    I couldn’t find this through a quick check of the Dothraki Vocabulary page: it lists “zafra” as “slave”, but has no terms for “Unsullied” or “eunuch”.

    1. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but that was actually really, really good. I wouldn’t mind seeing a full-blown documentary in that style (maybe interspersed with bits of interviews from “actual” historians), where they go through the history of a region as if it actually happened. I’d watch that!

      If I may suggest a Dothraki name for that battle, I submit Vilajero Jahaki Arthasi: The Battle of the Fallen Braids.

      The Dothraki would probably borrow the name of the Unsullied, out of respect. So if it’s Dovoghedhy, in Dothraki it’d probably be Dovoeddi.

  7. Biarvose avy enkin, sesīr avy rijan! (That is supposed to mean “congratulations!”.) I do hope you will do your Game of Thrones recaps to some extent at least. I’ve gotten the impression that you like to write posts where you are thorough and discuss your translation decisions, which I really do enjoy reading. But if you feel you don’t have the time, I myself would be happy to read briefer posts with more focus on just the translated text itself. Or maybe you could combine recaps of two or three episodes into one? The decision is of course up to you.

    1. I can’t speak to the Dothraki grammar, but the “fruit” referred to in America The Beautiful is almost certainly just more grain. It is, after all, a poem, and was written in 1895, so it’s hardly surprising if words are used in archaic and now obscure senses.

      (And yes, modeled on Latin fructus, which can mean “fruit” in the modern sense, but more common refers to grain. Really it’s anything useful a plant produces.)

      1. I know, I meant does “yot” distinguish between “fruit” the noun and “fruited” the adjective.

      2. I have to agree with this assessment. The mountains discussed in the song seem much more likely to be towering over, well, amber waves of grain. “Fruited plain” may just be a synonym.

        But saying for the sake of argument that it is actual fruit (apples? Those seem American), it should be oleth rami yoti—or at least that’s how I’d do it to fit the meter. Ram could be singular or plural, so here the interpretation would be plural.

        But grammatically, of course, yot is just a noun that means “fruit”; oleth assigns the genitive; and ramasar ends with an r, and this is non-negotiable.

        Honestly, I don’t know why people don’t e-mail me when they do things like this…

  8. Hi David. Great news on the book deal! Well done!

    Apologies for posting this here, but I just had a thought which I wanted to share with you. Maybe you remember previously: I was the one who was doing work on developing Cyvasse into a real board game and I asked you what form of Valyrian you thought it would use, and what piece names would be, etc. You had replied that you had always thought it had originated in Volantis and this would inform the linguistic choices when you got that far into the TV series (but you didn’t want to get ahead of yourself).

    The thought came when I was trying to think up a name for what I would call the version of Cyvasse which I have developed if, for legal reasons, I wasn’t allowed to call it Cyvasse. The particularly unique element of gameplay in my version involves “flanking” plays in which multiple lower ranked piece capture a higher ranked piece. So I had thought to ask you what the Volantene Valyrian word for the verb “to flank” (as one attacking force might do relative to another in a battle) might be.

    Then it occurred to me to ask, could that be what “Cyvasse” means? As in, is the word Cyvasse structured appropriately such that it can be both a noun and a verb? e.g. I like to play golf. Would you like to golf with me this afternoon? (I’m sure there are better examples, but I hope you understand what I mean).

    Anyway, best of luck with the book!

    1. Hi Mikel/Michael,
      I don’t know anything about Volantene Valyrian, since it doesn’t exist yet. But if the origins of the word cyvasse are indeed High Valyrian, I might be able to tell you some things. The -ass- part (no pun intended) of the word could be related to the aorist tense of an A-stem vowel-final verb, such as *kyvagon, if we take “c” to represent the phoneme /k/ and “y” to represent the phoneme /y/. For example, “You (sing.) mourn/You are always mourning/You must mourn” in HV is ilimassia. Correspondingly, one would get *kyvassia. However, the only verb that ends in -yvagon is tyvagon “to crawl, to creep”, which is consonant-final and does not have the the -ass- in its aorist tense. There is the word kivio “promise”, but I don’t think there is any connection to that. For words related to war and military, you can have a look at the vocabulary page at the wiki. There are quite a few, since alot of the HV dialogue has concerned the Unsullied.

      1. I always assumed Cyvasse would be pronounced something like [sɪ’væs] in Modern-day Westeros, much like Cersei is pronounced with a [s]. Has the Āeksio ever defined how to treat GRRM’s c-spellings? Does modern-day Sept Valyrian have /k/ > [s] in palatalizing environments?

        since alot of the HV dialogue has concerned the Unsullied.

        Now I want to see Allie Brosh draw an Alot of the HV dialogue. :)

    2. Some general responses:

      • -I still can’t tell you—or anyone—anything about the Volantene languages, because it hasn’t been invented yet—and isn’t even on the horizon. I wouldn’t want to coin anything for it without doing it properly, because doing so would require me to retcon, which I hate doing more than anything.
      • -If it were to mean something like “flanking”, it would be a nominalization off a participle. If that were the case, I can’t see it being related to the aorist. Consequently such a name seems unlikely in High Valyrian. Who knows what sound changes and grammatical changes would give birth to Volantene, though. It might work for that.
      • -I never have specified a *k > [s] sound change, but I absolutely did lay the table for one. This is why it was so crucial to learn how D&D wanted to pronounce valonqar. I included a [q] in HV basically to kill it. It allows me to apply sound changes that will affect *k that won’t affect *q, so a *k > [s] sound change is possible for any of the daughter languages. Whether it happens in a particular language, though, will depend on what it is and what else I can learn from GRRM about it (and the people, the culture, the names, etc.).
      • Cyvasse is most definitelly pronounced [ˈsaj.væs] by English speakers, and I’m sure that’s what GRRM intended. I take the pronunciations as important, but not necessarily the spellings. That said, if there were a *k > [s] sound change, a spelling of c would be quite appropriate.
      • -lol Astapori Alot. I want to see it!
      1. Fair enough, and thanks again for the response :) Maybe I have planted a seed ;) Although perhaps that’s not what GRRM means when he refers to himself as a gardener :)

        I absolutely did not think when I started reading Game of Thrones that two and half years down the track I would be discussing the linguistic implications of a hypothetical board game’s name (in an as yet hypothetical language) for which I have spent an inordinate amount of time devising rules. Times like this, the hyperbole of Allie Brosh’s cartoons make alot of sense to me.

  9. With one week to go before the Season 4 premiere, does it look like you’ll be able to take enough time away from your book to continue writing your recaps of the dialogue in each episode?

      1. We are very sad to hear this for our own sakes (ack, this means we will be transcribing Valyrian by ear again!)

        But for your sake, we hope your weeks become less trying.

  10. David what about edittig 2 books that teach both dotraki and high valiryan?? It would bem amazing ! with exercises too! :)

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