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My Life Is A Lie: We’ve Been Saying Khaleesi Wrong and Other Game of Thrones Language Trivia

In case you weren’t aware, the fluent High Valyrian we’ve been hearing in Season 3 of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones is completely made up. Much like the Dothraki language, author George R.R. Martin had a few words of the lost city’s tongue in his novel series but it’s David J. Peterson who made it speakable. There’s just one problem, us fans aren’t as fluent as we’d hoped. 

While watching the latest episode and hearing actress Emilia Clarke speak the word “Dracarys,” I thought to myself, “Oh, hey, that sounds different than last time, I wonder if that has anything to do with them formalizing Valyrian for use this season.” And sure enough, that’s the case. Peterson started on Valyrian early after trying to come up with a Dorthraki word. Since Valyrian is akin to Latin in our world, he simply borrowed the new word for Dothraki.

As to the epic vocal performance by Clarke in “And Now His Watch is Ended,” Peterson was happy to hear it. “I was delighted by Emilia Clarke’s performance. She really does speak High Valyrian like a natural,” he wrote on his blog. “She missed a word or two here or there, but such will happen. Overall, I’m extraordinarily pleased.” He also praised Dan Hildebrand, who plays Kraznys and speaks Low Valyrian, “He tends to devoice a lot of the fricatives, but I take that purely as an idiolectal variant. He’s very convincing.”

But here’s the crazy part, even though Daenerys’ title of Khaleesi was used fairly early in the series, everyone has been pronouncing it wrong. Vulture writes:

The more accurate pronunciation should be “KHAH-lay-see,” not “ka-LEE-see.” That’s according to David J. Petersonthe language creatorresponsible for all of the Dothraki and Valyrian dialogue spoken on the show, and he’s driven mad every time he hears it. “Ugh. God. That’s not how it’s supposed to sound,” said Peterson. “The vowel change bugs me.” As the architect of the language’s grammar and pronunciation rules, he’s the only one who can correct it with authority, but he lost the battle to correct the pronunciation on the show early on. “The producers decided they liked the other way better. They probably thought most people were pronouncing it that way anyway, which is true.”

Yes, Peterson is very specific about how his languages are used but we can’t blame him, he’s been making up languages for a while. Vulture writes, “Peterson, who has a masters in linguistics from the University of California–San Diego and founded the Language Creation Society, spent twelve to fourteen hours a day, every day, for two months working on the proposal that landed him the Thrones job. When he was finished, he had more than 300 pages of vocabulary and notes detailing how the Dothraki language would sound and function.”

Even though his passion is enough, Peterson also stays on top of things thanks to fans and Martin himself. He’s constantly worried dedicated fans who’ve taken the time to learn Dothraki or Valyrian will catch a mistake and Martin has been asking him to translate bits for The Winds of Winter. “He’ll e-mail me once in a blue moon, and then I’ll reply and I won’t hear back,” he said. “He’s a busy dude. I’ll have to wait to see if he used anything when it’s published.”

I’m not the only one who’s been practicing Dany’s speech…right?

(via Vulture)

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  • Donna Dawn Doneza

    Your pop-up survey is getting in the way of my reading. im even typing this blind. because the whole thing takes up my whole screen. cant even close it.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, correct pronunciation is going to lose against Iain Glen’s sexy voice every time.

  • Anonymous

    As a linguist, I’m constantly annoyed by the prescriptivism of imaginary language creators. It’s a living fake language! The non-existent native speakers are going to find new uses and pronunciations for words (that never had an old one)!

    Perhaps the HBO network executives just speak a different dialect of TV-Valyrian than Peterson. Nobody’s right… well, except for the creator.

  • Russ Rosin

    FWIW I tend to go with the pronunciations from the Audiobooks.

  • Anonymous

    The pronunciation of fictional languages in fictional worlds has always struck me as one of those things not worth getting in a tizzy about. Talk to any fandom of any fantasy series and you’ll find some flame war where people argue about the right way to say so-and-so’s name. I know this guy has a better starting point to argue his case from, since he created the language, but it’s still a silly thing to get bent out of shape over. It’s not like we’re talking about the right way to pronounce .gif or anything.

  • electrasteph

    I plan to devise a scenario where I can use the word “fricatives” in a sentence. Without getting a raised eyebrow from anyone. Hmmm.

  • Anonymous

    Technical phonology jargon needs more love.

  • Anonymous

    True, but I can also understand where the guy’s coming from, given that he did put a vast amount of work into it.

  • electrasteph

    I just need to hang out with more linguists.

  • Anonymous

    You’ll like this facebook group, then. :D

  • Brendan Reeves

    Since Khaleesi had been pronounced a certain way he should have structured his language to pronounce it that way and not vice versa.

  • Samantha Wilson

    I don’t really get the issue, most real life languages are pronounced differently depending on the accent of the speaker. Take how the English and Americans say butter! And any word can vary from town to town.

  • Melynda

    Wasn’t it structured by him before they filmed the series and made the supposed incorrect way of pronouncing it popular? Or are you talking about how people pronounced it just based off of reading the book? Because it’s a little hard to structure a language around what millions of people are saying to themselves in their brain. I don’t see what difference it makes, honestly. But obviously the dude wants his work carried through correctly. If I vocalized a language, I think I’d be kinda miffed at people for changing it too.

  • TheGoktor

    “Stop! Stop! You’re going to take someone’s eye out. Besides, you’re saying it wrong. It’s ‘Levi-o-sa, not ‘levio-Saah” :-)