The Art of Language Invention

  • by David J. Peterson
  • Narrated by David J. Peterson
  • 9 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

An insider's tour through the construction of invented languages from the best-selling 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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great resource, but not conducive to audiobook

Peterson is one of the foremost voices in language invention today, but this book didn't really lend itself to an audio production. Keep the PDF included with your audible purchase close at hand in order to follow along. It would've been more helpful to have actually cited the page number of the PDF, rather than him just saying, "refer to your PDF," as the PDF is 50+ pages long.

Otherwise, this is a great resource for those wanting to create their own language or are wanting to better understand the process of language invention and linguistics.
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- Ashley T.

David Peterson's guidebook for conlanging

What did you love best about The Art of Language Invention?

All the languages on Earth are the core of fascination for linguists. David Peterson is not just a specialist in existing languages but also a language constructor ( in abridged form: conlanger ). He is most popular thanks to Dothraki or Valyrian language in George R. R. Martin’s productions as Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. Peterson's creations were recognized in the public sphere which is television, yet little of the audience knew how complex the languages in these series were. Nonetheless, David Peterson seems to be sufficiently satisifed with the appearance of the language itself; its influence on the environment in which the movie or series is set. The videoblogs on Peterson’s YouTube channel raise the correlative subjects and holds the same title as the followingly reviewed work. The other book that Peterson wrote was “The Living Language Dothraki” describing the main fictional language in Game of Thrones.
The art of Language Invention may be defined as an indispensable guidebook for people who are willing to or already construct naturalistic fictional languages. It discusses the most crucial and challenging elements that a language normally contains. In the Postscript (p.251, p. 252) warns the readers that the handbook is exclusively for those who want to create naturalistic conlangs, i.e. artificial communication systems that follow linguistic principles as phonological assimilations or some logical associations in etymology. Although, it does not mean he discourages potential “surreal conlangers”, as he proposedly called them, even the opposite.


The book is divided into four chapters and each of them consists of subchapters that examine several issues and basic linguistic topics. The further the reader goes, the more complex the idea becomes. In Chapter I, Peterson felt obliged to present the primary subjects of linguistics - sounds, but also took it reasonably further.
”Humans can do some pretty amazing things with their mouths, hands, and bodies, but everything we can possibly do is still quite human. What if there was a being that didn’t have our unique physiology? How might they communicate?” (Sounds: Alien Sound Systems)
Instead of limitting the phonology to human speech, he made an attempt to restrain potential conlangers from an anthropocentric concept of phonetics and phonology which exemplifies his care for developping reader’s imagination.
“(...) we’re able to understand and work with our five senses, so an alien language would probably need to make use of at least one of those senses, unless you’re able to think up a distinct type of sense (thought doesn’t count). In order to determine what makes sense, you’ll first have to come up with an alien” (Sounds: Alien Sound Systems)
Peterson does not seem to quit here at this point since the further chapters follow the same concept. Chapter II is about morphology. In there, he provides a sizeable number of examples either from his own created languages (including Shiväisith, Irathient and others that are listed in the Phrase Books section) or natural languages that often seem bizarre to English native speakers, as Hindi that uses a completely different noun vs. object strategy in the past tense (p.131, 132, 133). The third chapter focuses on evolution which is regarded as the most important by Peterson. The final chapter discusses script and very unfamiliar to the Europeans types of writing systems.
Instead of exemplifying linguistic data for conlangers to memorise, Peterson showed them in a speculative perspective:
“How do you pronounce la§a? Pretty much like lava, except instead of putting a v sound in between the a vowels, you clap your hands together once. So l-a-CLAP!-a. No natural language on Earth does this, except in songs or language games (remember that dog Bingo?). There’s no reason why a language couldn’t do this (it’d be fairly simple to incorporate it into a language. Try replacing the sound f with a clap in English.”
Additionaly, it s not only the art of the language invention itself that makes the book captivating and comprehensible but also the casual humour and fairly informal style gives the original shape to the whole text. This gives the effect of the bond between the author and the reader whose interest met with Peterson’s aim. The excerpt below is another illustration in what way Peterson humourises a compendium:
Wherever you are (especially if you’re in a library, bookstore, or at work), open your mouth and scream. Loud.
SCREAM!!!
That’s a vowel.
A vowel sound is produced when air is allowed to pass out of the lungs totally unimpeded.
And the audiobook is not an exception. In spite of the graphs, difficult terms and the amazing ideas, it is also a comprehensive and constructed in a non-standard way source. Nevertheless, he does not flout the importance of the careful steps of the evolutionary process of the language. The difficulty of it might disappoint beginners in this activity. Obviously, once the terms are defined, it is assumed that the reader memorises them in order to understand the ideas put further. This is why the book appears “clubby” at times.
However, several things were not developed as diligently as others and they seemed to have been written in a rush. For example, in the explanation of the verb moods or tenses, the information appeared to be quite concise and it did not feel as accessible as the topics given in the Chapter II.
The work has been helpful for many language specialists and amateur linguists — David J. Peterson felt obliged to transfer the ideas given on paper to the videos on YouTube after the book met people’s expectations. However, the book is significantly more cohesive with the contents included. It is best to examine the book on your own rather than reading the review. The author deserves his recognition as the language creator of the modern age, even though this is just the beginning.


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- Bartosz

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-29-2015
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio