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With Game of Thrones back for its final season, there's no better time to brush up on High Valyrian, the fantasy language spoken by the most powerful characters on the show. Linguist David J. Peterson created both Dothraki and High Valyrian for the HBO series, and he stopped by our office to share stories behind the making of the languages, as well as tips for speaking Valyrian and his thoughts on which actors have the best accent. (Watch the video below for highlights from our interview.)
Peterson has been crafting languages for over ten years and has worked on creating new languages for a number of TV shows and movies. He is currently working on several for the upcoming.
What started as a few phrases in George R.R. Martin's books has evolved into fully built-out languages thanks to Peterson's work. High Valyrian, which is a bit like an ancient Latin for the Seven Kingdoms, now has more than 2,000 words with real rules and structure. So how can you make folks believe Valyrian is your mother tongue? Peterson offers a few points of guidance below — along with some phrases you can use in your everyday life:
1. Roll those Rs
“Roll every ‘R' you see,” says Peterson. “Every single one. Roll it extra. That's going to give you a nice Valyrian accent. Other than that, it's just intonation.”
Peterson says actress Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, may not always get her consonants perfect, “but her intonation is so good and so beautiful it kind of changed the way I pronounce High Valyrian myself.”
2. Learn from Grey Worm
For Peterson, no one speaks Valyrian as good as actor Jacob Anderson, who plays Grey Worm on the show. “Trying as hard as I might, I may never be as good as him,” Peterson said.
3. Study Valyrian for free on Duolingo
The language-learning app Duolingo offers a free course on High Valyrian, with the lesson crafted and voiced by Peterson. Hearing it can help you get the vowels right, and I found it surprising how quick it was for me to pick up on basic vocabulary.
The Duolingo team says that over the past two weeks, there's been a 65% increase of people signing up for the High Valyrian course. Who knows, you may find the challenges rewarding — or maybe even learn some pickup lines to use at a Game of Thrones viewing party.
4. Order a burger and shake
If the best way to learn a language is to practice with someone, then perhaps the most useful (and tasty) way to practice is by ordering from Shake Shack's secret High Valyrian menu. Peterson worked with the burger chain to craft the lingo for the limited-time menu.
Customers can order a spicy Dracarys Burger, which is a double Monterey Jack cheeseburger with bacon “imported from Essos.” There's also a Dragonglass Shake, a minted white chocolate custard made with “packed snow harvested beyond the Wall” and hand-churned by Night's Watch members, topped with shards of Dragonglass, er, black toffee.
But to properly order this meal of fire and ice, you'll need to speak Valyrian. So if you'd like the shake (Zīrtom Perzomy Rholītsos), that would be pronounced ZEER-tom PEHR-zo-mee ro-LEET-sohs. And the burger (Drakaro Parkliapos) would be pronounced druh-KAR-ro parr-klee-AH-pos.
Although I'm not sure what the Valyrian word is for fries.
5. Work it into everyday conversation
Face your fears and find ways to use High Valyrian in your daily life. I asked Peterson to help create a few common phrases to sprinkle casually into conversations:
Winter is here: Sōnar mastan
Hold the door: Nerni ōrēs
Where's the bathroom?: Skoriot rāenābion ilza?
I'm sick and can't come into work tomorrow: Lumie iksan sepār zān botagon koston daor.
When is the next book coming out?: Skorī amāzīlare tembyr urnīli?
Can I have your HBO password?: Aōho HBO-enko tistaliot ūliapossa mazemagon kostan?
(Okay sure, they may not have a Home Box Office in Westeros. But asking for the keys to someone's HBO vault in High Valyrian is one sure way to show your friends you deserve access to their account.)
This story was originally posted April 12, 2019.
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