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

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4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,323 ratings  ·  261 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
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Paperback, 292 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Penguin Books
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Manny
If you are another language nerd, you will find The Art of Language Invention absolutely irresistible. I couldn't put the book down and read it in a day and a half. Peterson, an amiable fanatic who lives and breathes for language, has been fortunate enough to land himself the best job in the world, inventing new languages for movies and TV series. Here, he gives you the details of how he does it and tells you what it's like to be the Tolkien of the early twenty-first century. Basically, it's sim ...more
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
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Jenia
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
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Tracey
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
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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
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Esme
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
http://weatherwaxreport.blog

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
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Nicky
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
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Cheryl
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
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Dr. Andrew Higgins
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing

A MUST FOR ALL LOVERS OF LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGE INVENTION

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
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Terence
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
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Ethan
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
Victoria
Dec 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I listened to the audio book of this book, I think it would've been a nightmare to read on paper since so much of what the author talks about depends on verbal examples in sentence structure and language sounds that one could never know just by reading.
Good things about this book are that it is a very thorough course in linguistics, there was a lot of great information and he cleared up a few concepts about how certain languages are structured that were fuzzy for me. There is so much terminology
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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).
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Ron
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
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
Julia
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.
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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. ...more
Farid
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 co
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Jo
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic-language
An interesting look at linguistics from the other side, so to speak. Definitely useful if you want to try creating a language but don't know where to start.

The only real downside is Peterson's tendency to get sidetracked by 'humerous' tangents.
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Scout
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
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Julie
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
Taylor
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
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rory
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is linguistic gold. For its stated purpose, it's executed almost perfectly, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in constructed languages OR just natural languages.

I wouldn't say you absolutely need any linguistics background to get something out of this book, but if you are totally new to the subject, it might go a little too fast. A "Linguistics 101" style course (or a knowledgeable friend you can pester?) would be a perfect companion to go through in parallel.

Here's an ex
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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
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Nicholas
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
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Marcus
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
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Desireé
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So, so, SO informative. I learned so much not only about how to make new language but also understand a lot of existing ones. While some sections were a little dense, they were broken up by Peterson's wit and humor, which was just delightful. I was fully inspired by reading this, took extensive notes, and tabbed most sections for revisiting later. Many of the questions posited for creating a language actually helped me think of amazing new world-building tidbits outside of linguistics. I highl ...more
Tessa
Aug 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you wanted to create your own conlang (constructed language) what would you need to know about languages? This book sets out to teach you that. It was much closer to a textbook than I expected (lots of dense material and flipping back and forth between pages to reference definitions) but written in a conversational style, and the structure and examples stay focused on language construction. If you like linguistics, but don't know much about it, strong recommend! You will learn a lot of very f ...more
Dasha
May 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
My god, this book is absolutely brilliant. And I honestly don't know how to describe it other than brilliant. I fell in love with it so many times over. Thank you Peterson, for writing it. For anyone interested in conlangs, or even just linguistics, this book could not be a more perfect place to start. My goodreads updates throughout the reading process have more detail than this review.
Summary of what I said in my updates:
- The book is comprehensive whilst simultaneously being accessible. It's
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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

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85 likes · 11 comments
“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
“The first is that languages in general tend to place a lot more restrictions on codas than onsets. The second is that certain languages will pile up coda consonants—apparently because they think the word is done with and no one will notice or care.” 0 likes
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