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The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,007 ratings  ·  216 reviews
An insider’s tour through the construction of invented languages from the bestselling author and creator of languages for the HBO series Game of Thrones and the Syfy series Defiance

From master language creator David J. Peterson comes a creative guide to language construction for sci-fi and fantasy fans, writers, game creators, and language lovers. Peterson offers a captiva
Paperback, 292 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Penguin Books
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4.07  · 
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 ·  1,007 ratings  ·  216 reviews

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Jason Koivu
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
"This is just a toe dip." That line is in the concluding chapter of David J. Peterson's The Art of Language Invention and I couldn't agree more.

The topic and practice of language creation feels EXHAUSTING after having read this. And yet, once you've read it, you're quite aware that you've merely glimpsed the tip of the iceberg.

I wanted to learn how to create a new language, which I could incorporate into my fantasy world. As I finish up book two and begin fleshing out number three, all while d
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for a quick and fun read about the experience of creating languages for and maybe behind the scenes scoops about Game of Thrones or Defiance, this is not it. If you're looking for a long, complex, and fun read about the experience and practice of creating languages in general, this is definitely it.

I admit, I was expecting the former, which was why I requested a digital galley from Penguin's First to Read program. And it was, shall we say, startling to very early on begin to ex
Apr 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
A 5-star book for any fantasy fan also interested in linguistics (but a 1.5-star book for any fan with a linguistics background).

The Art of Language Invention is a non-fiction book that explores the topic of conlanging, or how to construct your own language. The author, David J. Peterson, is the guy who developed Dothraki (for the TV series Game of Thrones) from a few odd phrases into a fully functional language of over 3000 words. In this book, he shows you how you can do it too.

But to construc
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
Amount read: about 15%

I loved the first chapter. Though created languages aren't something I'm especially interested in and I haven't given them much thought, learning about them was nerdy, and I super appreciate David J. Peterson's performance and love for his art.

However, once I hit the actual first chapter, it became apparent to me that I'm actually not nerdy enough to appreciate this book. His goal really is to teach others how to create a language, so he goes in depth into the creation of s
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Though this is written by the linguist behind Game of Thrones’ Dothraki, this isn’t a populist cash-in type of book. It goes into the history of conlangs (constructed languages) a little bit, and then delves deep into all the ins and outs of creating a convincing one — from phonology to grammar to script. It’s fascinating, if sometimes a little hard to follow for someone who isn’t interested in building their own invented language, and thus doesn’t have something to apply the ideas to.

The book c
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I got more then I bargained for with this book. While I have learned how Mr. Peterson wrote the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones; I have also learned a lot more about how everyone can read and use the same word in many different contexts. In addition, that there are so many ways to use your vocal range to produce a variety of different pronunciations and sounds. Which if you are a singer or an actor, I am sure you already know how to do the vocal exercises.

Yes, I agree that this book does
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it

The only reason I picked this book up was for r/fantasy's Bingo Challenge - to read a non fiction booked based on Fantasy
On the cover it said it was written by the person who created the Dothraki language for the tv show Game of Thrones, based on GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire series - I adore ASOIAF so I picked it up. I'm a little disappointed it had very little to do with Dothraki or Valyrian - probably a total of 30 pages for the whole book. The rest of it WAS inter
Dr. Andrew Higgins
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing


It has been an incredible joy and treat to read this book. David Peterson is a linguist and the creator of such languages as Dothraki and Valyrian for the HBO series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. He has also invented languages for Syfy's Defiance and Dominion as well as the language of Shivaisith for the movie Thor 2: The Dark World and most recently Star-Crossed and The 100. Peterson is
I might have given this book four stars. The first three chapters, "Sounds," "Words" and "Evolution," were interesting and contained some useful information I can use in developing my own conlangs.* The fourth chapter, "The Written Word," was of minimal use to me and I skimmed through a lot of it.

What I couldn't stand, however, was the writing. Peterson continually interrupted himself to make what he clearly thought were amusing asides. Since they weren't, it made reading tedious.

If you are at a
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have a strong background in Linguistics so this appealed to me from the moment I discovered it existed. It's not for everybody, but if things like the evolution of the word "gonna", descriptions of ergativity, hatred toward onions, examples pulled from popular and incredibly obscure languages all over the world as well as from conlangs created by many different people as well as Peterson's own languages, great pop culture references, analyses of the development of writings systems and how to e ...more
Christie Ralston
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Art of Language Invention was one of those books that I felt sad finishing because I knew that even if I read it again I could never have those exact feelings of amazement and wonder a second time. This book is fantastic and while it is a guide to beginning your own conlang, it truly is, at its heart, an exploration of the ingenuity and creativity that goes into creating and evolving a language. Peterson shares profound thoughts regarding culture and language while being an awesome linguisti ...more
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent for what it was- a reference book for people who want to make conlangs. Very informative, but as I said, definitely a thing I'd need to use the pdf. The pdf is CRITICAL in the last portion about orthography.

Also, there are parts that definitely sound like he wrote them at 2 in the morning, so that's fun.
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although I'm a big GoT fan, what interested me most about this book was not the constructed languages but the sheer volume of linguistic information. I majored in foreign languages and studied quite a bit of linguistics in the '70s but much of this information was new to me and in far more detail. The writing style is engaging and humorous. The focus is on the author's conlanguages (notably Dothraki and High Valerian) but I wish he'd have given more natural language examples to illustrate the co ...more
Sotolf Flasskjegg
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be very inspiring, I enjoyed the writing a lot. The topic of the book also is something that I knew I'd enjoy, but that only brings you so far. Surely I think this one would be great for anyone that have a bit of interest in languages.
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading this book made me realize just how intricate a language is, and the vast amount of work required to create a proper, fleshed out, naturalistic constructed language. I never even realized that the languages on shows like Game of Thrones were created just for the show. I especially liked the chapter on the evolution of written languages over the years. Here's a fun fact about the origin of the word "pants"!

It's a shortening of pantaloons, which were named after a character in Italian come
Scout Maria
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
My four star rating is very much based on my own experience of this book -- I think for a conlanger starting out this book is probably a five star resource, for a linguist proper this might drag a bit because it covers a lot of intro-level ground you're probably already familiar with, and for someone expecting this to be more memoirish or quick-and-easy you should readjust your expectations.

I think Peterson makes his intentions quite clear in the book's intro: "This work is a sincere attempt to
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Have you ever thought about the languages we read in novels or hear spoken in movies and television shows? Not the languages that are spoken in our world, but rather the languages that only exist in the fictional world. I must admit I hadn't given this a great deal of thought before, but it turns out that there are people whose job it is to invent these languages. I personally find this fascinating. David J. Peterson is one such person, a master language creator who has invented languages for te ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Have you ever wanted to invent your own language? No, neither have I. But if you love to learn about language and languages, The Art of Language Invention might put a different spin on the way you look at the subject.

David Peterson explains in scholarly detail just what goes into inventing a language. He describes the people who invent languages for fun, and they are an enthusiastically geeky bunch. They strictly apply the rules of language, as we know them, to constructed languages (conlangs).
Nov 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting topic. A good 2/3 of the book is basically a LIN101 course, which anyone at graduate level or above in the field (such as me) might find a bit boring. Had this been a written book rather than an audiobook, I would have skimmed or skipped significant portions. The discussions centered specifically on artificial language creation were very interesting. I would definitely recommend this to non-linguists as well, as it seems to be geared more toward the layman, although that same LI ...more
David Miller
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
At long last I understand what "ergativity" is, and nothing can stand in my way!

This book is a primer in the basics of language and linguistics as well as a kind of "how-to" in the mysterious craft of building a language in a bottle. Linguists talk about language in a peculiar jargon that bears some resemblance to the vocab from your high school grammar classes, and despite Peterson's noble effort to set out all the basic terms as needed it may prove challenging to some. If you aren't used to th
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Absolutely fascinating! I am no linguist ("learn more languages" is on my mental list hilariously titled "When I have some time"), but I do love language, and learning about how languages are made up (in both senses!) was a delight. Also, Peterson's style is light and fun and engaging, even when he's talking about things that went completely over my head. Highly recommended for linguists, folks who want to try making up languages of their own, or just language geeks in general.
Dante Uribe Rico
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book has become one of my favorite books in the entire world. David Peterson perfectly describes conlanging as the entertaining, complex, beautiful art that it actually is (even for hobbyists like me!), and he does so in a remarkable, filled with humor, and most importantly relatable manner.
For those who know little to nothing about linguistics, reading this book is a great way to get to know a bit of what linguistics really is. Even for those who do know, this is an essential read if you a
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, language
The book was incredibly thorough in its scope, which was just what I was hoping for. While it's an invaluable resource for conlangers, it's also great as an overall introduction to linguistics, which is why I picked it up. The one linguistics class I took at university didn't go nearly as in depth as David Peterson has done here.

But also, I've been having trouble learning a second language for years, and I was convinced it was because I couldn't pin down the name and function of what I was learn
Marcus Choo
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good introduction not only to constructing languages but also the basic principles of linguistics, which I’ve been trying to get more into. However, the explanation of said principles suffers from a slightly self-indulgent tendency to use as examples the author’s own constructed languages, where it might have been more educational to have reference to the natural languages of the world.

But the author does a great job of explaining just how much effort goes into these things, including creatin
Mitch Anderson
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you have any interest in language, do not dismiss this book based on its title. While the fantastical implications may cater to a particular audience, they certainly don’t invalidate the wealth of knowledge contained within The Art of Language Invention.

David Peterson introduces the breadth and depth of linguistics in a light-hearted manner that is surprisingly easy to consume – not an easy task. The book covers many topics including, but not limited to, phonetics, casing, inflections, tenses
Oct 20, 2018 marked it as did-not-finish
I really enjoyed the first part of the book and read it pretty quickly. The second part bogged me down a little, so I set it aside. When I came to finish it, I could not find the book. So, until I find it again (or borrow it), I'm moving it to my did-not-finish shelf.

However, if you are an all around nerd - both linguistically and sci/fi-fantasy genre wise - then THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!! Just don't forget where you put it when you need a break.
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a deep, weighty grammar of possibilities. I am a language teacher and fantasy writer, and read it from that perspective. I found I needed the e-book and the audiobook to make it worthwhile for me. It is nerd level 7 or above.
Jade Aidan
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book offers a creative, quirky, and nerdy perspective as it brings its reader into the vast expanse of linguistics and conlanging. I have been a conlanger for some time, but I keep returning to this book, because it helps to reinforce my understanding of the process, as well as provide a truly enjoyable reading experience through honest and comical writing.
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
Far too technical. I read through the first chapter and kept waiting for him to actually make languages come alive. But he never seems to get beyond labels and functions and categorization. I wanted him to talk about the beauty of language, not help me build a language. Once again I am misdirected by a blurb which doesn't actually describe the content of the book. I think the marketers at PRH wanted this book to be something it's not.
Oct 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: for-review
This review originally appeared on my blog,


THE ART OF LANGUAGE INVENTION is a thorough, funny introduction to the basics of creating a language. Apparently, making a new language involves a lot more than making a word list or alphabet. Who knew?

I tend to geek out over learning how things are done, and I learned a lot reading this book. I swear I learned something on every page. The author gives information on a ton of topics, such as the different types of oral sounds, how gramm
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My name is David Peterson, and I'm a language creator and writer. I'm the author of Living Language Dothraki, and the forthcoming The Art of Language Invention. I've been creating languages for television shows and movies since 2009. The productions I've worked on (and languages I've created for them) are: HBO's Game of Thrones (Dothraki, High Valyrian, Astapori Valyrian); Syfy's Defiance (Castith ...more
“If the actors speaking Dothraki or High Valyrian or Castithan or whatever make a mistake, who would know but the creator? Who would care? The truth is probably one in a thousand people will notice, and of those who do, maybe a quarter will care. In the 1980s that amounts to nothing. In the new millennium, though, one quarter of 0.001 percent can constitute a significant minority on Twitter. Or on Tumblr. Or Facebook. Or Reddit. Or” 2 likes
“Those who are able to do other accents well or who can make themselves sound like a native when speaking another language are incredible at imitating other vowel sounds. Consonants” 0 likes
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