On the job with a language creator

Wouldn’t it be cool to create a new language from scratch? David J. Peterson thought so, then he made it a career. We speak to the colanger (a.k.a language creator) to talk Game of Thrones and how he got started.

After studying different languages and linguistics at college, David J. Peterson was set on creating his own.

Now, 19 years later, David has invented languages for some of the best TV shows and movies out there.

David’s portfolio includes Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World, Doctor Strange, and many more of your fave shows. So, how do you even become a colanger?

Firstly, what formal qualifications do you need to work in your role?

Being  language creator requires nothing more than sitting down and beginning to create a language. If one starts a language, one is a colanger.

Linguistics and language study certainly inform the work of a language creator, but they are neither prerequisites nor sufficient training to be able to create a good language. That comes with practice and studying the craft itself.

When it comes to creating a new language for a television show, where do you start?

I discuss what’s wanted with production: they tell me approximately how they’d like a language to sound (or look, in the case of a sign language). I create a fake sentence with the phonology and intonation I intend, and then I record it and send it to them. They tell me if it matches their expectations or not, and I adjust it accordingly.

When production is satisfied, I set about creating the rest of the language. Every so often I’ll coach one of the actors either on the phone or via Skype.

How does it feel to work on shows like Game of Thrones?

It’s nice to hear when it’s done well – when the actor really gets it. It’s part of the music of the production. It was fortuitous that Game of Thrones became a huge hit, because it led directly to many other projects for me. I wouldn’t have a career had Game of Thrones not had the impact it did.

What is the best part of the job?

A single created language is never done. There’s never a point where there is nothing to do with a created language. It can be a bit frustrating, but the way I look at it is I have projects that I can work on for the rest of my life. I find that quite exhilarating.

Do you have any advice for young people considering the career?

The moment you start creating a language you are a language creator. Start! There you are. You don’t need to wait on anything; you don’t need to study anything; you don’t need to read anything. If you use a language, you can create a language. Go to it!

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