Published: Feb. 10, 2020 By

David Peterson, who will be coming to campus to discuss the history of language creation and his own methods of 'conlanging'—or constructing languages—on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the CASE Auditorium

Dothraki and High Valyrian, two languages created for the HBO fantasy television series Game of Thrones, helped draw a large community of captivated fans to the show’s mythical world, and now their creator will be speaking at an event at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Linguist David Peterson

Linguist David Peterson

The languages, based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, were created by linguist David Peterson, who will be coming to campus to discuss the history of language creation and his own methods of “conlanging”—or constructing languages—on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the CASE Auditorium. 

Tickets for the event, which is co-sponsored by the CU Linguistics Club and the Department of Linguistics, are free and available on Eventbrite. A light reception will follow the talk.

“I think what's so cool about this event is that it will get the audience interested in a whole new area of knowledge,” said Delaney Deskin, a linguistics and political science undergraduate and president of the CU Linguistics Club.

On top of Dothraki and Valyrian, Peterson has created other “conlangs” for shows and movies like the Netflix film Bright, the CW series The 100 and Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World

As such, Peterson is Hollywood’s go-to linguist for conlangs that bring a sense of reality to fictional worlds. While the art of conlanging has been around since series like Star Trek and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Peterson’s work with Game of Thrones pushed the field of linguistics to the front of pop culture.

Though conlanging may seem like a simple compilation of random sounds, Deskin discusses, language creation mingles closely with the role of language in social dynamics in creating a sense of reality within a fictional society. 

"Something that distresses me is that people see the title "conlanging" and limit themselves and think, 'Oh, well that's just made up,' when it's not,” Deskin explains. “It's another thing, and it's another tool in someone's arsenal to engage with their community and find common interests and stuff."

CU Linguistics Club

CU Linguistics Club leadership (left to right) Nadine Salvador, Lauren Nelsen, Maisa Nammari and Delaney Deskin.

With the increasing emergence of conlangs in the entertainment industry, Deskin sees further emphasis on the field of linguistics’ interdisciplinary involvement in many aspects of society. As she studies both linguistics and political science, Deskin also tells of her department’s push for connecting linguistics with other fields of study and its emphasis on language’s “placement in the larger background of daily life.” 

From the linguistic club, Deskin, vice president Lauren Nelsen, secretary Maisa Nanmari and treasurer Nadine Salvador came up with the idea of inviting Peterson to speak on the creation of language. They collaborated with Professor Laura Michaelis and Cynthia Clark of the Department of Linguistics to bring him to campus. 

Deskin hopes that this event is a fun way to introduce the larger campus community to linguistics through pop culture. With the notion that language is not isolated from society, she hopes people will further learn more about language through its connection to other fields “outside of the vacuum.”

“I think it's really powerful for someone to actually think about what is the society and the dynamics I'm creating, and how does language play into that? Because language isn't isolated from the rest of society.”