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Words are everywhere in cinema. From those carefully chosen by screenwriters to those that emerge from teen culture (see: Valley Speak) to spelling bees and crossword puzzles to the world’s vanishing languages. But try consulting a dictionary when you meet a Horse Lord on the plains of Westeros (see: you may be out of luck).

In creating a science fiction or fantasy world, storytellers face the unique challenge of devising its native tongue. Once consisting of gibberish, film and television’s ultra-foreign languages have become robust, complex inventions, frequently crafted by bona fide linguists to enhance the story world (see: Klingon, Na’vi, Sindarin, Dothraki). If you think writing dialogue is tough, try inventing an entire language for those lines.

We delve into the world of language creation with David J. Peterson, linguist and language builder, whose dictionaries include Dothraki and High Valyrian (Game of Thrones), Castithan (Defiance) and Shiväisith (Thor: The Dark World) and whose recent book (in English, thankfully) is The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building.

Library Foundation Member reception to follow.

Presented as part of the Library Foundation’s project, Hollywood is a Verb: Los Angeles Tackles the Oxford English Dictionary.

This program is generously funded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

David J. Peterson

David J. Peterson started work on his first constructed language as a sophomore at UC Berkeley, and sixteen years later he’s still at it. An English major at heart, David also received a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics at Berkeley before earning a Master’s degree in Linguistics at UC San Diego. Since 2009, he’s been working in the entertainment industry creating languages for shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones, MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, the CW’s The 100, and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, as well as films like Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World. David is the author of Living Language Dothraki and The Art of Language Invention, and is ecstatic to be able to devote an entire book to discussing what goes on under the hood of a created language.

John Nein

John Nein is a senior programmer at the Sundance Film Festival and deals primarily with US and international feature films. He also plans the festival’s panels and runs the Institute’s film preservation initiative. John grew up in Europe and the United States, studied history at Carleton College and earned his MFA from UCLA’s Film Directing program, where he made several award-winning shorts and lobbied tirelessly for better coffee in the vending machines.