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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 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 captivating overview of language creation, covering its history from Tolkien’s creations and Klingon to today’s thriving global community of conlangers. He provides the essential tools necessary for inventing and evolving new languages, using examples from a variety of languages including his own creations, punctuated with references to everything from Star Wars to Michael Jackson. Along the way, behind-the-scenes stories lift the curtain on how he built languages like Dothraki for HBO’s Game of Thrones and Shiväisith for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, and an included phrasebook will start fans speaking Peterson’s constructed languages. The Art of Language Invention is an inside look at a fascinating culture and an engaging entry into a flourishing art form—and it might be the most fun you’ll ever have with linguistics.


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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 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 captivating overview of language creation, covering its history from Tolkien’s creations and Klingon to today’s thriving global community of conlangers. He provides the essential tools necessary for inventing and evolving new languages, using examples from a variety of languages including his own creations, punctuated with references to everything from Star Wars to Michael Jackson. Along the way, behind-the-scenes stories lift the curtain on how he built languages like Dothraki for HBO’s Game of Thrones and Shiväisith for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, and an included phrasebook will start fans speaking Peterson’s constructed languages. The Art of Language Invention is an inside look at a fascinating culture and an engaging entry into a flourishing art form—and it might be the most fun you’ll ever have with linguistics.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    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 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 simple: all you need to do is spend your entire life learning languages, and be prepared to go to any lengths to get the details right in your own creations. Peterson's happy to do all that. Judging from the examples he gives here, he has a good working knowledge of at least English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Swedish, Russian, Finnish, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Hausa, Georgian and ASL, plus bits and pieces of several dozen more languages. He's got a seriously good overview of the subject, and when he's building a new conlang there are any number of places where he can find ideas to adapt. A lot of the book is just walking you through the linguistic machinery you'll need to master if you want to learn how to do this yourself - phonology, morphology, grammar, language evolution, writing systems - but his background gives him a unique spin on all this stuff. He explains how he invented High Valyrian for Game of Thrones. When he started, he didn't have more to go on than a bunch of proper names, a handful of nouns, and two short sentences: Valar morghulis. "All men must die." Valar dohaeris. "All men must serve."Evidently, that -is ending in some way encodes the idea of "must": but how? From this unpromising beginning, Peterson sketches out how he built the whole verb system, not just for High Valyrian but for the proto-language it evolved from (Tolkien taught us that realistic invented languages always have a backstory), and walks us through the details: the regular, the imperfect, the old and new forms of the perfect, the pluperfect, the future. Finally, he tells where that mysterious -is ending fits in: valar is a collective noun, the -is form of the verb is a third person singular gnomic or aorist form, and the combination of the collective with the gnomic/aorist form is what produces the force of "must". I'm sure a hundred other explanations could have been found by less creative linguists. But this one has real class, and it rings true. And that's not even the most amazing thing in the book. Read it to find out how Peterson created the Castithan script, its relationship to Hindi and Thai writing systems, how it evolved from earlier forms of Castithan writing, and why their spelling is so annoyingly inconsistent. If you want to know how a true master craftsman works, get The Art of Language Invention now.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    "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 "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 developing four and five, it has become more and more apparent that I will be creating new races and vocal creatures that should not be speaking English, if my readers are going to have any chance at suspending disbelief. I know it has been done that way and is readily accepted in mainstream productions, but to me, that is the cheese. It is the cheesiest of cheese, by which I mean it stinks. Why would any kind of "alien" race naturally speak English? Obviously advanced civilizations could have translation devices or could be intelligent and advanced enough to cope with learning ESL, but I'm writing old timey fantasy with monsters beating each other over the head with clubs. I doubt they'd have time to enroll in adult ed night courses. So, I wanted to add some realism to my humanoid races. Enter The Art of Language Invention. Very quickly I realized I was in over my head. This, my friend, is complicated stuff. As an example for your benefit and for my own recollection down the line, here is a list of contents: Chapter One: Sounds - Phonetics - Oral Physiology - Consonants - Vowels - Phonology - Sounds Systems - Phonotactics - Allophony - Intonation - Pragmatic Intonation - Stress - Tone - Contour Tone Languages - Register Ton Languages - Sign Language Articulation - Alien Sound Systems Case Study: The Sound of Dothraki Chapter Two: Words - Key Concepts - Allomorphy - Nominal Inflection - Nominal Number - Grammatical Gender - Noun Case - Nominal Inflection Exponence - Verbal Inflection - Agreement - Tense, Modality, Aspect - Valency - Word Order - Derivation Case Study: Irathient Nouns Chapter Three: Evolution - Phonological Evolution - Lexical Evolution - Grammatical Evolution Case Study: High Valyrian Verbs Chapter Four: The Written Word - Orthography - Types of Orthographies - Alphabet - Abjad - Abugida - Syllabary - Complex Systems - Using a System - Drafting a Proto-System - Evolving a Modern System - Typography Case Study: The Evolution of the Castithan Writing System There's also a short phrase book at the back that includes approximately one page each of Dothraki, High Valyrian, Shivaisith, Castithan, Irathient, Indojisnen, Kamakawi, Vaeyne and Zaanics. Some of you GoT fans are probably getting all giddy in your pants at the idea of learning Dothraki. And well you should! This isn't the book to teach you the Horse Lords' language, but it's a start! That and High Valyrian are Peterson's two most famous creations. They made him semi-famous. Famous enough to be mentioned by the lovable Emilia Clarke on late night tv: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuKcZ... He does a great job in this book of explaining the basics. You could, if you had plenty of time, construct your own brand new and very real language just from reading this book. It probably would be rather basic itself, but it would function. There aren't exactly step-by-step instructions, but Peterson does lay out this book, feeding you the info you need when you need it, in a way that naturally walks you through a language building education. One way to look at it is that instead of taking the full semester's course, you're reading over the syllabus. Even if you're not interested in creating a new language, The Art of Language Invention is informative to those who are interested in words and language in general. Peterson relays a good amount of language history to the reader in order to explain his theories and practices. I found that quite educational. Also, this is written in a very casual tone. I think the man knew he needed to sugar-coat this stuff for the vast majority of his audience to get it down. If you're into GoT to the point of reading blogs for background information, you'll definitely get something out of this.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenia

    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 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 construct your own language, you have to understand how language works. That means that in essence, this is a fantasy-tinged Linguistics 101 textbook. It briefly but thoroughly covers basic phonetics and phonology (sounds), morphology (word bits), syntax (grammar), semantics (meaning), orthography (writing systems), language change, and other various bits and bobs of language. There is also an overview of the field of conlanging and some anecdotes of the author’s experiences on the sets of shows/movies like Game of Thrones and Thor 2. But the bulk of the book is a linguistic “toolbox”, giving you the basics to help construct your own language – or be able to analyse others. In my opinion, Peterson delivers his subject material very well. I’m a linguistics MA student, and I’d say this book covers approximately the first semester of first year linguistics. I would have been very happy to have had it as a supplementary text then! Peterson’s explanations are pretty clear and there’s always plenty of examples to illustrate how the concept works, some from Dorthraki or Sindarin (one of Tolkien’s created languages), others from “real-world” languages like Chinese or Arabic. He writes in an easy-going style, making it a bit less intense and dry than a normal textbook but no less informative. However, I do have one serious problem with the book, and that’s how deceptive the blurb is. The blurb implies that the book is mostly a look at conlanging, e.g. its history and current issues, and also includes a bit of “essential tools” for making your own language. I don’t know, maybe the publishers thought people would run away screaming if they realised it was a linguistics textbook. Yes, there’s an (extremely interesting!) overview of conlanging as a whole, but it’s around 30 pages of near 300. The rest is a very thorough intro to linguistics. (You may need to take notes.) For me personally, therefore, the vast majority of this book was a mild form of torture. It’s absolutely not the book’s fault, it’s just that I’ve heard the basic discussion on “How do you define a word?” enough times over the last five years that I wanted to scream/sob upon hearing it again. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough conlang-specific material for it to be worth suffering through the basics for anybody with a background in linguistics. A final issue I’d like to touch upon is choosing what format to read the book in. I listened to the audiobook. Peterson narrates it himself and is a good reader, and pretty good at pronouncing all the different language examples, whether from Icelandic or Shiväisith (the Thor elves’ language). But I’m not sure I would have been able to follow the audiobook if this was my first time encountering the material. The syntax examples get fairly complex, particularly the ergativity stuff. It’s just easier when you can refer back to the examples in question quickly, as well as to the definitions of various linguistic terms. On the other hand, imo it’s practically impossible to understand phonetics without hearing the sounds first. Again, not the book’s fault, it’s just that no matter how carefully you word “/ɔ/ is an open mid-back rounded vowel,” it makes more sense when you can hear the sound in question at least once. Perhaps both text + audio together work best, but at the very least I recommend text + checking out Youtube IPA videos during the phonetics chapter. In short, if you’ve always wanted a crash course in linguistics, it’s an excellent place to start. (And for people who do linguistics, avoid like the plague.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    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 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 explore the nuts and bolts of language invention – conlanging. Here, suddenly, were terms I hadn't seen since the days when some school friends and I wandered the halls on our way to Latin class chanting "Nom Gen Dat Acc Abl… Nom Gen Dat Acc Abl… " (which stood for Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative.) (Yes, we were weird.)(You probably should have gotten that from "we voluntarily took Latin".) I hadn't given those terms another thought since. (I kind of liked it that way.) And then came flurries of terms I had never heard before in my life…I admit it: I skimmed. But I never quit, because the writing was so entertaining. (David J. Peterson hates onions. Just saying.) Every time the skimming almost did turn into "ok, that's enough, moving on", I came across a cool fact – like "The tilde on top of the ń began its existence as a second letter n written directly above the main n" (or "…In American Deaf culture, deaf with a lowercase d refers to the inability to hear; Deaf with an uppercase D refers to the ability to sign."); or an even cooler revelation about language, or life, that made me blink and smile and even possibly let out a faint squeak, like the bit about the pronunciation of "knight". (And "And stories like this one lie behind all grammar.")(And "…Is one a word? Sure. Two? Of course. Twenty-three? Yes… But if that's the case, doesn't English then have an infinite number of words…?") The examples given are interesting and attention-retaining. ("What is David Bowie?"). Even skimming, I learned quite a bit from this book, and had fun doing it. The next time anyone complains about English being a difficult language, point them to Finnish. Or Chinese. Or "the Tsez language, spoken in the Caucasus mountains, [which] has sixty-four cases, fifty-six of which are local (not a joke)." "It rained. What rained? The clouds? The sky? The … weather?" ("…English, whose orthography was devised by a team of misanthropic, megalomaniacal cryptographers who distrusted and despised one another, and so sought to hide the meanings they were tasked with encoding by employing crude, arcane spellings that no one can explain. ("Ha, ha! I shall spell 'could' with an ell! They will powerless to stop me!") One of the things I learned was that, quite possibly, conlanging is one of those things – like crochet and making gifs – from which I need to put my hands up and back away slowly, because I could far too easily become interested, find myself sucked down a rabbithole, and *poof* would go vast tracts of time I should be spending on one of the things I'm already involved with. I don't know if I would ever take the plunge – but I have too many hobbies and potential hobbies and projects and distractions than are good for me. Until I learn to do without sleep, I need to keep my distance from anything else that might suck me in. And remember – "Do not call a conlang a fake language. Those who do only make themselves look foolish."

  5. 5 out of 5

    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 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 sounds and stuff. It's basically a textbook on language creation, one told in a funny manner but still with too much information for me to be able to soak in for a pleasure read. If you are deeply interested in language invention, I'd recommend this super highly though. If you're only mildly curious, it might be too much for you too.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Esme

    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 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 interesting though, and I learned a ton of stuff considering I have no background in linguistics. The book starts off with some background on created/constructed languages - the first known language that was consciously constructed was created by Hilegard Von Bingen - named Lingua Lingua. She thought her language creation was dictated to her by god, and had some interesting word choices Ie: Zirzer meaning "anus". It briefly went over the history of other constructed languages, but focused on Esperanto which is the most wide spread Auxiliary Language known today - which was created in an attempt to make a widely known alternative language for international use. Tolkien was one of the first people to create a language not based on 'god' or on and attempt for global communication, and was entirely focused on a fictional world. He actually didn't just create a language, but a language family - which is mirrors what happens in real life ie: romance languages. Two of his most widely known languages are Quenya and Sindarin which both share a common ancestor language - Quendian. The first person ever hired to create a language for tv/film was Victoria Fromkin for the show Land of the Lost (1974). Paku was unfortunately not featured as much as she would have liked, and so it doesn't get as much credit as it deserved. The book spent a fair amount of time talking about Conlanger culture and the rise of the Conlang website Conlang Litserv. One of the past times many conlangers enjoy is translating each others languages and giving feedback - but it works like an exaggerated version of the game telephone where some of the paragraphs translated end up hilariously warped. There was a whole chapter dedicated to the different sounds that are used or exempt from certain languages and what makes a language sound 'harsh' or 'flowing' to English speakers. A large chapter in the book went over how we physically make sounds without really being aware of it, large amounts of terminology in this chapter "Oral Stops, Fricative, Affricate, Nasal Stops, flap/Tap, Trill, Lateral" etc. Since describing how we do this doesn't come across easily through text, the author spends a lot of time making up 'throat experiments' so you can understand what it is he's saying. One of the throat experiments used to explore the meaning of "Backness, Height, Rounding, and Openness" asked you to pay attention to what happens when you say Meet, Mate, Met, Moot, Moat - as an example of "openness". Sign language was also addressed in the book, and I felt a little embarrassed that I didn't know there were multiple types of sign language, not just ASL - for example Britain as BSL, and France as FSL. That chapter also briefly went over Deaf Culture, and I was woefully ignorant about many aspects of that as well. There was a chapter that briefly touched on what alien languages may sound like or what body parts outside of a mouth and larynx may be used ie: clapping. Technically, humans have the capability of using claps as a 'letter' in our languages but we just don't. It wasn't until page 90 that the author went over how he went about creating Dothraki, and it was over by page 97 - so if you don't like ASOIAF or GoT - this may appeal to you, I was a little disappointed though. By page 199 though he addresses Valyrian, and that went a little more in depth even though he only had 6 words and 2 sentences from the original text to create a language. The two sentences were Valar Morhulis - all men must die. And Valar Dohaeris - all men must serve. From there he created an entire language, pretty impressive. The latter half of the book concentrated a lot on the evolution of language and how English ended up with words like knight vs night, and how the written language was developed and evolved. The last chapter of the book focused on a written language he helped develop for the show Defiance. I actually know Alienese from the show Futurama, which is a very simple 1 for 1 replacement code for English. I thought that was nerdy... unfortunately Alienese didn't get mentioned in the book. Not a surprise considering it's really not a language but just a code. All in all I enjoyed this book, but it was EXTREMELY technical, I'd say about 10% of the page space was dedicated to terminology and charts. I had to take notes and re-read and reference things all the time. It took me a while to make it through this book - I did however enjoy myself and I thought about things that never occurred to me before. This book would have way more appeal to linguists - and may bore the shit out of people who have 0 background in this sort of subject.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    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 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 covers a lot of ground by including some case studies of invented languages as well (Dothraki, unsurprisingly, included). Less usefully for me, it includes phrasebooks for some invented languages. Ultimately, I think you have to be pretty darn into conlangs to get much value out of this, but it is a fascinating subject. Originally posted here.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    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 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 read like a text book but a very intriguing and informative book. I did not think I would like reading this book as much as I did. Also, the Case Studies that were featured in this book I found to be interesting and like added bonuses. Geared with this additional knowledge, I will now be watching movies, television shows, and books with more of a critical eye on the language used.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dr. Andrew Higgins

    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 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 also a co-founder of The Language Creation Society - which is a group of not so secret language inventors. If you are interested in the art of language invention and how language works I urge you to read this book. Peterson adapts a very practical (and sometime humorous - this man does not like onions!) approach to laying out for the would be language inventor (and I know they are out there!) the sounds, words, and syntax of invented languages (using many practical examples and case studies from his and others invented languages). He also includes a brilliant chapter on writing systems. I very much enjoyed Peterson's descriptions of how his invented languages actually were used and pronounced by the actors on Game of Thrones and the detail he put into these languages as elements of world-building. This is a must read for all practitioners (or want to be practitioners) of the 'Secret (and no so Secret) Vice' - and you will learn a lot about how language works as well. Highly recommend and Peterson's passion has inspired me to revisit some of my early attempts at language-invention.

  10. 5 out of 5

    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 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 all interested in constructing languages, then I would recommend this book to you. Aside from the style, Peterson clearly presents the building blocks of a language and useful tips on creating one. * My own interest in conlangs began when I read The Silmarillion way back in '78 and fell in love with the all too small Elvish dictionary that was included. When I was around 14, I began developing my own imaginary world, which I still work on to this day and for which I've created several languages. I'm a dilettante conlanger so I've only focused on one language, the dominant tongue of that region of my world most fully realized in my imagination, but I've constructed the skeletons for a variety of others in an effort to avoid having every place and personal name sound the same.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    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 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 emulate centuries of evolution of said systems, how conlanging started and grew with the spread of the Internet, or postulations on what language is at its very core and can possibly be, fascinate you then this book is for you. Superb.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    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 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 in this book that in order to really remember and understand it all I think you would have to re-read certain chapters over several times. The audio book really would have benefited from including native speakers! Sometimes he just absolutely butchers the pronunciations and it is really distracting and takes away from the examples he has provided and the point he's trying to make. It became really cringey to listen to sometimes. I really liked that he included a chapter on signed languages! He got the history right and for the most part I was really pleased with the chapter, but I got annoyed when he talked about how he'd created a system for transcribing how signs are produced. The Deaf community has already done that, it already exists and is less complicated than the one you've invented! I eventually had to skip that chapter because it became apparent that in all his research he never actually spoke to the Deaf community because some of his claims or the way he described how to sign a word, were incorrect. Overall this book was interesting to listen to and it's not a wasted effort because you will learn things, David Peterson should not have tried to speak every single language example because mispronunciation or vocabulary that was slightly wrong really took away from the enjoyment of this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    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). 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). They don't necessarily expect or want people to speak these new languages, the way Zamenhof wanted Esperanto to bring people together. For most of the conlangers, it's a cerebral exercise, like a game of chess or a SimCity community. There is even a small market for invented languages for TV and movie stories. Peterson's introduction and first chapter takes you into this world, but after that, it's a college level linguistics course, explaining how grammar works and orthography, etc. and how to apply it to invented languages. This was a little deeper than I wanted to go, but the case studies that he sprinkles throughout describing how he solved various linguistic problems in creating languages, were quite interesting. He finished up with a quick chapter on how to get involved in the conlang community and the job prospects for such skills (dim). (Thanks to Penguin First Reads for a digital review copy.)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    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 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 concepts. It's a lot to swallow for most conlang neophytes, more than most fantasy/sf authors generally need and more than most readers will appreciate. He mentions Edgar Rice Burroughs early in the book but there is no discussion of ERB's linguistic creation (very pedestrian compared to Tolkien and others). I'd like to have seen some discussion of what authors do wrong in language invention, what the pitfalls are for beginners. (I'm a firm believer in teaching by negative examples.) Also I'd have expected something on Klingon and other notable conlangs outside of the author's creation.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Christie Ralston

    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 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 linguistics teacher the whole time. If you have any interest in languages at all, I implore you to read this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    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. 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sotolf Flasskjegg

    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. 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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Farid

    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 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 comedies from the sixteenth century named Pantaloun. They were so named because Pantaloun used to wear a very specific type of (for lack of a better word) pants.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    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. 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.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Scout

    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 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 give new conlangers a place to start by detailing what things I take into account when creating a language." It does read in some places like a textbook, but a well-written and humorous one, and I personally enjoyed a refresher of basic linguistics info in addition to the material that was new to me (the only major section I skipped was the tech walk-through about creating digital fonts). I liked that Peterson draws not only from his own conlangs, but also natural languages and conlangs created by others for his examples. I wish we had gotten even more of the fascinating history of conlangs that was briefly outlined in the intro. In general I thought the book created a unique and interesting lens through which to view linguistic and orthographic change. Definitely the "case study" gray-edged sections are worth the price of admission alone.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    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 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 television, film and novels, including the languages Valyrian and Dothraki for the HBO series Game of Thrones. In The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building, Peterson delivers a creative guide to language construction. With chapters on sounds, words, language evolution and the written word, he brings the reader deep into the world of linguistics and language structure. He gets into the details of sound systems, intonations, grammatical gender, phonological evolution, orthography and so much more. Each chapter is followed by a case study related to the topic. These delve deeper into Peterson's languages, providing a glimpse into his creative process. I started out reading this book from the beginning, but I will admit that I soon realized it was not a book for me to just sit down and read. I did find the sections that I read to be informative without being dry. Peterson obviously loves what he does; his passion comes through with his writing. I am not, however, in the process of creating a language myself, so I'm not really the target audience for this book. I jumped around quite a bit and learned a lot about linguistics and the way languages work. It's pretty amazing, actually. While I wouldn't recommend this book to just any reader, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in creating a language or who is looking for a more interesting way to learn about linguistics. The level of detail and explanation that Peterson provides is extremely valuable, and his own experiences are even more so.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    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 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 LIN101 approach means the book is pretty dense in terms of unfamiliar information for someone outside the field. This may feel a bit tedious for those who went in not expecting such a technical discussion, but it does show just how in-depth language creation is. I doubt the average fan of Game of Thrones, Star Trek, or the Tolkien worlds realizes just how much knowledge, research, time, and effort go into creating the invented languages found therein. This book definitely sheds some light on that. Plus, you'll learn some linguistics for sure!

  23. 5 out of 5

    David Miller

    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 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 thinking about language in a technical, logical, or even mechanical sense, you may be tempted to think the author is insane. The really exciting thing about this particular book is how it directs all academic details of linguistics toward a concrete and understandable goal: making your own language. As to why a person would ever do such a thing, Peterson argues convincingly for the making of systems of communication as an independent mode of expression, an unexpected art form for the new millennium. It is kind of a beautiful idea, and this book does it justice.

  24. 4 out of 5

    rory

    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 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 example excerpt from the book that I would consider to be of roughly average technical difficulty (relative to everything in the book): "In order to avoid having to pair every single consonant in one's inventory with every single other consonant, one generally uses classes of sounds (e.g. oral stops can be followed by approximants). How to decide which clusters will work and which won't, though? Let me introduce the sonority hierarchy. The sonority hierarchy defines classes of sounds based on how likely they are to serve as the nucleus of a syllable." If you at least feel intrigued enough to want to learn what this means, then you might enjoy the book!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dante Uribe Rico

    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 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 aren't familiarized in one of the most artistic, fun activities related to language. It's absolutely worth reading if you want to be amazed with the things a creative artist such as David can come up with, as well as the mesmerizing works showcased in this book! I would honestly consider this a MUST READ for writers, worldbuilders, linguists, conlangers, sci-fi and/or fantasy fans, and anyone who wants to learn to appreciate an exquisite, vast artform.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    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 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 learning, everything was so vague. If only I knew the technical terms and definitions for all these linguistic and grammar rules, really break it down into its most basic parts and look at each individually. This book was great for that. Final thoughts: I was surprised by how quick of a read this was! Peterson made each topic both accessible and fun. I loved the part about sign language articulation. The sign language IPA was fascinating.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    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 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 creating proto-systems of speech and writing that have to be evolved multiple times in detailed iterations. I also how pernickety he is about the tiny nuances of his languages, which nobody but him can really understand, and the nerdery is very entertaining.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Desireé

    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 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 highly recommend for anyone interested in learning more about language or creating your own, or simply stimulating your creativity.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tessa

    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 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 fun facts!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mitch Anderson

    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 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, voicing, grammar and even orthography. I would highly recommend this book (in part or entirety) to anyone generally interested in language, writing, and especially, language creation (though I’m no conlanger).

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