March 29th, 2013
02:52 PM ET

David Peterson and the languages of 'Game of Thrones'

Editor's NoteDavid Peterson is the creator of the Dothraki language used in the HBO show "Game of Thrones." Peterson also is a member of the Language Creation Society.  A 30-minute profile of Peterson will air on CNN's "The Next List" this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

By David Peterson, Special to CNN

It's now a little over a year from the day when CNN’s "Next List" crew came to Orange County to do an episode on my language-creation work. At the time, I really had no idea what the coming year held in store for me, so I did my best to look busy.

I had recently joined Syfy's "Defiance" as a language creator, but hadn't yet done any serious translation work, and while I'd finished my work on season two of HBO's "Game of Thrones," there'd been no discussions about season three up to that point. I remained hopeful, but that March I didn't really have much going on.

During my first interview on the morning of twelfth, the "Next List" producer asked me if I'd be working on the Valyrian language for the show's upcoming season. Immediately alarm bells went off, as I started to think back and wonder, "Did I accidentally say anything?"

Though there had been no discussions, I and many assumed that some form of the Valyrian language would make an appearance in season three, but at that stage, any such discussion would have been premature, and certainly would have been covered by a non-disclosure agreement. Trying not to look too perturbed, I asked why she would ask that, and she told me that when she'd interviewed executive producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff earlier, they'd said I'd be working on Valyrian this season.

And that's how I learned I'd be creating a new language for season three of "Game of Thrones."

For those tuning in to the "Game of Thrones" premiere this Sunday, you'll still have to suffer through a few subtitles, but the audio will sound a bit different from seasons past. Though there are a number of Dothraki speakers yet alive on the show, there's surprisingly little Dothraki this season. In its place is quite a bit of dialogue in two related languages: High and Low Valyrian.

In George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire," High Valyrian was meant to occupy the place Latin occupies in the Western world. Latin was the language of the Roman Empire, spoken commonly for several centuries in and around the Italian peninsula and beyond. It's the mother language for all the Romance languages spoken today (Italian, Spanish, French, Catalan, Romanian, etc.).

High Valyrian, in turn, was the language of Martin's Valyrian Empire, an expansive domain that existed for several millennia before it was destroyed by a mysterious event cryptically referred to as the Doom. In its purest form, High Valyrian still exists as a language of scholarship and refinement, though its impact on the region was far greater.

High Valyrian was taken up and creolized by the old Ghiscari Empire, where it's still spoken at the time of action in the books and the show. And it served as the mother language for the various Low Valyrian languages spoke in the Free Cities of Volantis, Braavos, Myr, Pentos, Lys, etc.

This season, I worked on two of the Valyrian languages: High Valyrian (the oldest form of the language) and the Low Valyrian spoken in and around Slaver's Bay. To translate sentences into the latter variety of Valyrian, I would first translate them into High Valyrian, and then apply a series of phonological, semantic and grammatical changes to the text. The resulting language is approximately as different from High Valyrian as Old Spanish is from Classical Latin.

If you watch the "Game of Thrones" premiere, you'll hear some of the Slaver's Bay variety of Valyrian. Both Nathalie Emmanuel and Dan Hildebrand do an outstanding job with their lines. I was extraordinarily pleased with their performances, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

And even if languages aren't your thing, I hope the Valyrian won't distract you from what I think is a truly superlative premiere for season three.

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Filed under: Innovation • Language • The Next List • Thinkers • TV • Video
Microsoft computer speaks Chinese for you - in your own voice
November 9th, 2012
03:58 PM ET

Microsoft computer speaks Chinese for you - in your own voice

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - By now, everyone knows computers can talk.

There's Hal. There's Watson. And, of course, there's Siri.

But never before have computers been able to talk for you, in your voice, and in a foreign language.

That's the technology - or a precursor to it - that Microsoft Research recently demonstrated at an event in China. The company's research arm on Thursday posted a video of the talk and a blog post about the technology behind it. FULL POST

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Filed under: Future • Innovation • Language • Tech
September 18th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Neuroscientist: Progress follows 'lots and lots of ideas'

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) – Whether he’s peering into the mind of a mass murderer or spinning tales of the afterlife, bestselling author and neuroscientist David Eagleman is wrestling with some of the most profound questions of our existence. What is time? What is consciousness? How does the human brain construct reality?

“I’m very interested in the perceptual machinery by which we view the world,” Eagleman says, “and how we make decisions, our beliefs, our actions in the world.”

As head of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Eagleman and his students are pursuing some 50 different projects on the human brain. They study topics from time perception and brain plasticity to synesthesia, a condition characterized by a blending of senses. For research assistant and synesthete Hannah Bosley, synesthesia means that she associates letters and numbers with different colors.

“For example,” she says, “the word dog is D-O-G. It’s also yellow, clear and green to me.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Art • Culture • Innovation • Language • Science • The Next List
April 9th, 2012
05:54 PM ET

Recap: Language creator David Peterson on 'The Next List'

For linguist David Peterson, inventing a new language is “like creation itself.”

Peterson is the inventor of the Dothraki language, spoken in the HBO hit series, “Game of Thrones.” (Disclosure: HBO shares a parent company with CNN). And just as J.R.R. Tolkien’s languages infused “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogies with an authenticity rarely seen in fantasy fiction, “Game of Thrones” writers and executive producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff say Peterson’s Dothraki brings a depth to their savage warrior culture beyond that found even in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Innovation • Language • The Next List • TV • Video