Spinoffs and Dead Languages with David J. Peterson

Episode 364 – Spinoffs and Dead Languages with David J. Peterson
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Language creator and author David J. Peterson joins the podcast for an intimate discussion ahead of Con of Thrones and Game of Thrones season 7.

Let’s dive in!


The door
Con of Thrones
Penny Dreadful
Creating Skroth
Asshai
Season 7 update
Grammatical paradigms
Spinoff city

29 responses

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    1. Awesome podcast, so fascinating how he builds the languages and how they are sometimes growing constantly, brilliant, so so so gutted I can’t experience con of thrones, it’s sounding (again) like it’s going to be another unmissable exhibition, that being here on the south coast of England I defo will be missing, hope it’s an awesome one for all who are going!! the hype is truly beginning to grow rapidly, I think a lot of people are going to literally shit when a trailer does drop,!!!!! 🤘🏻😆🤘🏻

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    2. David’s description of the devil’s tongue he created for Penny Dreadful was fascinating. I agree with him that Eva Green should have nominated for an Emmy. Her performance was chilling.

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    3. Lonely Cat,

      I think Eva Green is the greatest actress in the history of anything, so I couldn’t agree with you more.

      There are a lot of talented actors/actresses out there, but I don’t think any of them could’ve done what was required of the part of Vanessa the way Eva did. She’s mesmerizing on screen. She could be reading the dictionary one definition at a time and i would still find it captivating.

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    4. As a linguist myself, I’m glad that a fellow linguist gets some recognition.

      Way back when I was doing my basic linguistic courses at uni, the exercises weren’t in any language any of us students knew. Often Tagalog or various Alqonquian languages or Ketsua or whatever. Not understanding made us focus on the phonology, and especially the morpholology and syntax, to gain an understanding of the ways natural languages work. Gave me insights on how my own language works and why it’s so different from English, or French, or any Indo-European language.

      I think it’s wonderful that GoT/HBO have employed a linguist to create the Dothraki language and High and Low Valyrian. I haven’t studied those languages but I suspect they’re like Indo-European in their morphology and syntax – nothing wrong with that, but as a speaker of a non-Indo-European language with a very different morphology and syntax, I’m quietly amused.

      And I wonder if David J. Peterson would ever go full on ergative.

      Rawl, rawl, rawl, linguist inside joke, sorry. The Indo-European, Fenno-Ugric, and many American languages have shades of ergativity. “This shirt washes well”, “The door opened” and the like.

      The idea is there but Indo-European or Fenno-Ugric languages don’t code this in their grammar. For us, who (subject) and what (object) are important things, bridged by a verb (or a complex of verbs).

      Imagine a language that focuses not on the whos and whats but on hows and whys. The reality is the same but the thinking is so fundamentally different that it’de be difficult to find common ground… It’s really difficult to explain to subject/object language people. It’s really difficult to wrap your head around to disregarding subjects/objects and thinking about it affected/instigator way, where that determines the grammar.

      There are English speakers in the US and the UK who think the human brain can only fit one language (English), other languages, bilingualism and knowledge of other languages somehow fries your brain and disadvantages you and makes you dumb. I must be very dumb indeed, speaking my own language and English completely fluently, Swedish also fluently, pretty good Norwegian, good enough Danish, pretty good German, smatterings of Estonian, Dutch, French, Russian (I know the Cyrillic alphabet well enough to read them even if I don’t fully understand the language) and more Portuguese. Even understand and be able to pronounce some Scots Gaelic place/topographical names. My brain must be soooo fried.

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    5. talvikorppi,

      Not a linguist, but a layman with an interest in the subject, having had several college courses in linguistics, as well as an unofficial minor in a foreign (Indo-European) language. I’ve wondered/assumed the same thing — if the artificial languages of GoT (and Star Trek, etc.) are Indo-European in their basic structure. The ones I’ve checked out (Vulcan and High Valyrian, for fan fiction purposes) rely heavily on inflection.
      As talvikorppi well knows, multilingualism doesn’t fry the brain! It’s currently suspected that being bilingual delays the development of Alzheimers’.

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    6. talvikorppi,

      I’ll never understand the attitude so prevalent in the U.S. against learning other languages. I grew up bilingual (Portuguese and English) and started teaching myself Spanish at 8. If I must, I can get directions and find food & drink in French, Italian, and German. Americans are constantly astonished by my ability to speak three languages, and I’m constantly astonished by their astonishment. It’s really no big deal, especially considering how many people (like you) speak far more. Both one’s world and one’s mind are opened exponentially by exposure to more languages, and Americans have impoverished themselves by becoming so obstinately monolingual.

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    7. Mr Derp,

      I agree with you. Eva is such a wonderful actor. Anything she touches is pure gold. It drives me crazy that when I mention her to people 95% of them have no idea who she is.

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    8. Wolfish,

      Its so very true. Native English speakers seem to believe no matter where they go in the world they will be understood. If not understood the first time, they will speak slower (or louder) and if that doesn’t work then even slower and more louder 😉

      I’ve seen that happen many times when a cruise ship comes in full of Brits and they go into the bars looking for food and drink! At times, I’ve helped them out and will tell the bar staff or waiters what they want.

      Although originally from London, I have lived in Spain (Canary Islands) for 31 years. I had no choice but to learn the language. My wife is a local and doesn’t speak a word of English! More or less the same for my two daughters who were born and educated here. However, my younger daughter can watch GoT (in English) and pretty much understand what’s begin said and translate it into Spanish for the benefit of her older sister !!!

      I’m well impressed, but she will always talk in Spanish when speaking to me 😀

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    9. Black Raven,

      UUUGGGHHH, the slower-and-louder behavior drives me batshit-crazy. I, too, have seen it a million times!

      What frustrates me just as much as the assumption that everyone will (or should) understand English speakers is the utter lack of understanding about how speaking multiple languages truly enriches and expands one’s mind. I think differently in Portuguese and Spanish; in addition, because they’re both romance languages my understanding of English is enriched by my knowledge of them (those Latin root words sure get around!).

      Interesting that you’ve been in the Canary Islands for so long. My parents are American (mother is from Long Beach, California; father is from Washington, D.C.), but moved to Brazil before I was born. When they divorced my mother stayed. She decided to come back to the U.S. in 1981, when I was 11, because of the terrible economic situation in Brazil. Never got used to the U.S. again, and returned to Brazil in 1988. She has never set foot in the U.S. again, and has now spent more than half her life in Brazil.

      On her mother’s side, my mother’s family was from the Azores. Like many immigrant families, the older generation did not allow the children to learn the language; hence, my mother grew up in a household where the great-grandparents and grandparents spoke Portuguese to each other in the kitchen, but the children spoke none. It was very ironic, therefore, when she wound up in a Portuguese-speaking country without speaking a word of the language. She mastered it so quickly that within 7 or 8 years she was working as a translator for a government economics institute, both Portuguese-to-English and English-to-Portuguese.

      I asked her once how she learned how to speak Portuguese, and she said she watched soap operas diligently. That cracked me up, because I had never known her to like such programs. Her response? “Soap operas are a great way to learn a language. No matter where you go, the plots are really similar and the acting is over-the-top. You’ll figure out really quickly who’s sleeping with whom.”

      I’ll remember that when I spend time somewhere outside of the Americas or Western Europe. 🙂

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    10. Whoo hoo, he answered my question all by himself without being specifically asked! Such a fascinating guy!

      The best spinoff idea “Dragonlords of Volantis”

      Dragon taming in Valyria, while the Targarian royalty have their historical side-dramas, the serfs/heros deal with the reality of working in the dragonpits. Downton Abbey with 10% more flamethrower effects.

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    11. talvikorppi,

      As for English speakers, it’s quite a hurdle for learning some languages that the word order is unimportant because meaning is derived unequivocally from the grammatical markers, usually suffixes – so whether you use SVO / VSO or any possible order the meaning of who is doing what to whom is clear. This demands a thorough knowledge of the grammar (declension, case system etc), whereas in English we can get away with being very sloppy or lazy indeed in our speech! OTOH in German the word order is quite strict, most commonly in separable verbs or subordinate clauses for example.

      And some languages such as indigenous African or Australian Aboriginal have been commonly derided because of racism as “primitive” whereas in fact they are very rich and complex. They have beautifully descriptive ways to convey meaning that simply don’t exist in other languages.

      I am struggling tremendously with Japanese at the moment, although it is quite logical in sentence construction it demands a change of thinking – not to mention learning two syllabaries and Kanji… Watashi wa, Nihon-go ga mada heta desu

      Anyway I have heard that asking for an ice cream in Finnish is a major linguistic exercise 😉

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    12. Wolfish,

      Very happy to join this conversion! You mentioned how your mother began learning Portuguese… Well, that’s my way of learning Spanish! As my mother tongue belongs to the Romance languages (Romanian), and also because of my learning French in school since I was 7, I have always understood a lot of Italian without ever learning it. But when I was at the university (Philology, majoring in both Romanian and English) I discovered Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry and I wanted to read and speak Spanish. I took some courses, but the bulk of my knowledge in Spanish comes from telenovelas. I had a period of time when I was fascinating by them (even if now I feel I should blush) and they really enriched my vocabulary. (I am so grateful that films and series are subtitled in my country!) I had some grammar knowledge from my courses and a pretty good idea how the Romance languages work and, due to the rather limited vocabulary in telenovelas, learning new words and phrases was a pleasure. I’m sure that, had I still been interested in telenovelas, my Spanish would have been much better.

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    13. talvikorppi,

      I really enjoyed what you wrote about languages! At the university I focused on literature, not linguistics, but I am fascinated by languages and consider that learning them is fun.
      I found out about the languages you know (kudos!) and I am curious whether you can tell me about resemblances between Finnish and Hungarian. In the region I live there are many Hungarians and I have traveled many times to Hungary (I love Budapest and Lake Balaton), but I don’t know Hungarian almost at all (maybe 10-20 words). I wish I knew it, but I find it very difficult. I have often heard that the only modern language related to Hungarian is Finnish. I am very interested to find out your opinions in the matter.

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    14. To be honest the best way to learn a new language is sucking the native tongue.
      Hook up romantically with a local and you learn in no time.

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    15. praedictus:
      To be honest the best way to learn a new language is sucking the native tongue.
      Hook up romantically with a local and you learn in no time.

      So true! When I first came out to the Spanish Canary Islands to work (and that was only supposed to be for 3 years on a fixed term contract) – I was told the best way to learn the language was ‘To sleep with it!” – I’m sure you get my drift 😉

      So I did… and ended up get married! I never thought at the time I’d still be here some 30 years later!

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    16. Wolfish: I’ll never understand the attitude so prevalent in the U.S. against learning other languages.

      There’s not a prevalent attitude against learning languages from my point of view. At least I’ve never seen it. It’s more about desire to versus need. We’ve always had language courses in high school and at universities and for quite some time they’ve started kids at even younger ages, which I believe is a very good and wise decision. Most (older) people you ask would say they wish they could speak additional languages if they can’t. Whether it’s the language(s) of their ancestry or Spanish because so many in the US vacation to Mexico and Caribbean islands.

      There isn’t an attitude “against” learning languages for many as much as it’s been less of a necessity for much of the country. Anybody that says they’re against it is just a jackass. People that live in Europe or other areas with many languages in heavy use close together might not understand. I live in the upper midwest region of the US where the demographic for years and years was mainly Scandinavian and German descendants, but nobody speaks the languages anymore. My great grandparents were all born in Norway and Sweden but their languages weren’t needed and thus not learned through the generations. Most people in this area hardly ever leave the country (or state) and when we do it’s usually for a week vacation every other year or so to somewhere warm south of the border like I mentioned (or within the US). Trips beyond that are rare or once in a lifetime things for most of us. I personally didn’t go beyond a 150 mile radius from my house between vacations to Zihuatanejo in March 2013 and Dominican Republic in March of this year. So, it’s the lack of NEED to learn other languages. We go on vacation in Mexico and want to speak fluent Spanish… then we go home, back to work and forget about it for a few years until the next trip reminds us we didn’t learn it. Some people follow through. 🙂

      Over the last 15-20 years even my area has changed A LOT. It’s starting to burst with Somali and Spanish speaking transplants. Now more than ever additional languages need to become required learning for the young because it is becoming a NEED.

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    17. @ShyLadyDragon – Ack, just the other day I was saying “Game of Thrones Wiki has alternate versions for every Romance language….except of course, Romanian, but we need a Portugese version more I guess….” — ack.

      Star Trek Wiki has a Klingon version.

      It’s not a matter of “if” we make a Valyrian wiki version, it’s a matter of “when”. (Living Language Valyrian would help speed the process…)

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    18. The Dragon Demands: Ack, just the other day I was saying “Game of Thrones Wiki has alternate versions for every Romance language….except of course, Romanian, but we need a Portugese version more I guess….”

      It would be impressive if you have Catalan too not to mention Occitan, Galician, Aranese, Sardo, Romansch and Ladin versions 😉

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    19. ^
      I wanted to add to the above, it’s interesting how the Common Tongue is prevalent in Westeros, but there is no indication in the books of the existence of distinct dialects (I know of the “minor variations” and accents, but this does not a dialect make). Yet the Free Folk have managed to retain their own distinct languages

      Just look at the plethora of indigenous languages and dialects in short distances within Europe as a contrast.

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    20. Wolfish,

      Interesting to read your family history with its Portuguese roots. On my wife’s father side they came from Malaga in Andalusia, but her father spent much of his childhood and early working life in Ceuta (a Spanish enclave at the tip of Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar). He could speak Arabic fluently and would occasionally burst out with it if he had a few too many to drink or pissed off over something with none of us understanding a word 😉

      I have to agree though that for non native English speakers (and certainly in Europe) having sub-titles on movies, soak operas, etc must help considerably for them to learn English. I have Dutch and Swedish friends here who can speak English perfectly who told me it was through watching movies and TV shows how they picked up the language. More so than at school where English was taught as a compulsorily subject.

      Speaking of which, I had to learn Spanish at senior school back in the early 1960’s. It was pot luck when I started and would be either French or Spanish depending on the class/form I was put into. I ended up doing Spanish, but was useless at it. I remember the teacher telling me so and said – ‘I had a snow balls chance in hell’ of passing the exams. At that time he was correct, but some 25 years later I could speak the language probably better than he could 😀

      Its a pity that some European countries will only show movies and TV shows overdubbed in their their own language. Spain, France and Germany being three examples. I have watched some GoT episodes overdubbed in Spanish and they lose much of their humor. Certainly the scenes with Tyrion and The Hound when coming out with expletives!

      ¡ Joder al Rey ! – just sounds tame compared to – Fuck the King! hehe 😀

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    21. Shy Lady Dragon:
      I am so grateful that films and series are subtitled in my country!

      One of my most amusing childhood memories concerns subtitles. When I was about 8 or 9 the neighbors asked my mother if they could take me to see The Sound of Music, which had been re-released in theaters (this was pretty common before Betamax and VHS!). The subtitles were terribly done, and I informed them of every single thing that had been improperly translated. When they took me home and my mother asked if I had behaved well, their response was something to the effect of, “She’s very intelligent, but we’re never taking her to an American movie again!”

      On another note, reading poetry in the language in which it was written is so wonderful; I’m really impressed that you wanted to read García Lorca in Spanish!

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    22. Shy Lady Dragon,

      My aunt is first-generation Hungarian-American (her parents sought asylum in the U.S. in the 1950s) and fluent in both Hungarian and Chinese. She’s told me Hungarian is actually more complex than Chinese, and more challenging to learn.

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    23. Clob:
      There’s not a prevalent attitude against learning languages from my point of view. At least I’ve never seen it. It’s more about desire to versus need. We’ve always had language courses in high school and at universities and for quite some time they’ve started kids at even younger ages, which I believe is a very good and wise decision.

      Over the last 15-20 years even my area has changed A LOT. It’s starting to burst with Somali and Spanish speaking transplants. Now more than ever additional languages need to become required learning for the young because it is becoming a NEED.

      While I largely agree with your statement about desire vs. need, I would argue that in many swaths of this country there’s also an obtuse prejudice against learning other languages. I’ve now spent most of my life living in rural areas, and when school districts start slashing programs because of decreased enrollment and/or tax base foreign language is often the first to go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, when I’ve questioned the logic of doing this, “They should learn how to speak English properly first,” or “Why should they learn to speak another language? They’re in the United States,” or “Even if they travel, everyone else speaks English.”

      In addition, as far as I know the U.S. is the only First World country (are we still a First World country? I’m not sure any more) where a) learning another language and b) having geography as a compulsory subject are not mandated in K-12.

      On another note… Are you in Minnesota, perchance? When I think “Upper Midwest” and “Somalis,” Minnesota springs to mind. My sister-in-law and her wife live outside of Minneapolis; they’ve been there for more than 30 years.

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    24. Black Raven,

      Thanks for the family history!

      Totally agree on dubbing, which I despise. One of my funniest movie memories is of watching The Rock late at night in a hotel in Florence. Nothing quite like seeing Sean Connery, Ed Harris, and Nicolas Cage in badly-dubbed Italian. Thankfully we had a bottle or two of Antinori.

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    25. Wolfish,

      Nothing to be impressed, really! Learning languages is a pleasure for me. I borrowed a bilingual edition of Lorca’s poetry from the university library and I was mesmerized how the poems sounded in Spanish and frustrated that I could understand only a few words. Having read English poetry in the original, I had been aware that, even in good translations, a lot of charm and emotion are lost. (Before reading Baudelaire in the original I couldn’t understand his fame.) There was a free open course of Spanish for beginners, so the decision wasn’t difficult to take.
      Such a cute story about you being a precocious translator! Your neighbours should have known better – it was your wanting them to understand correctly that prompted you to inform them about every damn mistake.
      I used to get angry a lot about bad translations in the subtitles, especially because I considered that those jobs could have gone to proficient people.

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