10 Fun Facts About the Valyrian Language of 'Game of Thrones' and 'House of the Dragon'
By Arika Okrent
Over the course of eight seasons of Game of Thrones, we heard the language of the horse-riding Dothraki people as well as Valyrian, a group of languages worked out to a much greater degree than is evident on that show by language creator David Peterson. Because the upcoming Targaryen-focused prequel House of the Dragon promises to have much more Valyrian dialogue than Game of Thrones did, here are eight fun facts about the language for you to ponder before Dragon debuts on Sunday, August 21 on HBO Max.
1. Valyrian is a family of languages, like Latin and its descendants.
Old Valyria was an ancient empire (sort of like Rome) that no longer exists in House of the Dragon or Game of Thrones, but its language, High Valyrian (sort of like Latin), is still spoken as a learned language by a select elite (again, sort of like Latin). It developed over time into Low Valyrian dialects (similar to the Romance languages) spoken in various regions. Peterson worked out realistic developments in Low Valyrian as compared to High Valyrian, such as loss of long vowels and diphthongs, reduction in the number of grammatical cases, and a more fixed word order.
2. Peterson based the language on phrases George R.R. Martin used in the A Song of Ice and Fire series—but added his own twist.
When creating the Valyrian language for Game of Thrones, Peterson looked at what words from the language Martin had created for his books—notably, character names and the phrases Valar dohaeris (all men must serve) and Valar morghulis (all men must die). “With the words and names, George R. R. Martin mostly prescribed what the sound system of High Valyrian was going to be,” Peterson told the Duolingo blog. (Duolingo and Peterson teamed up a few years ago to create a High Valyrian course, which has been updated with 159 new phrases ahead of House of the Dragon’s premiere. “In fact, I only added two sounds to Valyrian that aren't found in the books: z [z] and ñ [ɲ]. I felt they fit.”
3. Valyrian has four genders.
Grammatical genders, that is. Many languages categorize nouns as either masculine or feminine, but these are not biologically based categories, just linguistic ones. High Valyrian categorizes nouns as lunar, solar, terrestrial, or aquatic. Nouns for humans are usually lunar; occupations and body parts are typically solar; food and plants are most commonly terrestrial; and liquids are aquatic. The gender determines how other aspects of the language are handled. The word for he/she/it, for example, can be different depending on which gender its referent belongs to.
4. In Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen strategically mixed High and Low Valyrian.
As heir to House Targaryen, Daenerys was educated in High Valyrian, but as she went around conquering cities where Low Valyrian dialects were spoken, she showed she knew about them too. When she said “zaldrīzes buzdari iksos daor” (“a dragon is not a slave”) in a season 3 episode, she used the Low Valyrian word for “slave,” buzdari, so that the cruel slave-master Kraznys knows that she understood all the insults he was directing toward her when he thought she couldn’t understand.
5. The first Valyrian word to be made public was for “thank you.”
Peterson was working on the Valyrian languages in 2012 before any dialogue in the languages had appeared in the show, and though fans were eager to get a glimpse of his work, it had to be kept secret to avoid spoilers. On Christmas that year, however, in a note on his blog, he noted that Dothraki inconveniently has no word for “thank you”—so he decided to thank the community with a taste of the new language, and the Valyrian term kirimvose.
6. Peterson honored both his cat and his 3000th Twitter follower by naming words for them.
The word for “cat” in High Valyrian is keli, the name of Peterson’s cat. The word for “son” is trēsy, so called in honor of his 3000th Twitter follower, @Tracee2ez.
7. Fans write poetry in Valyrian.
A dedicated community of Game of Thrones language fans study the grammar and vocabulary and help the language expand and grow by creating new works in it. The winner of the 2015 High Valyrian Haiku Competition, who went by “Papaya,” created this elegant example:
Or, in English:
A life in the sea
Would be sweet for me.”
8. If you only depend on translations, you’ll miss a Monty Python joke.
Peterson revealed in a 2014 interview that when Daenerys arrived in Meereen in Season 4 and a champion was sent out to challenge her, Missandei’s translation didn’t capture what he really says, which is a Valyrian version of the French taunter’s lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Byjan vavi demble eva o, trezy eme verdje espo jimi! Oa mysa iles me nýnyghi, si oa kiba tuziles espo tomistos!” translates to “I fart in your general direction, son of a window-dresser! Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”
9. Valyrian appears in a “To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before” Tattoo.
When a fan of the show asked Peterson for a translation of the Star Trek phrase for a tattoo she was thinking of getting, he obliged. The Valyrian version, skoriot daorys gō istas nēdenkirī jagon, translates literally as “Where no one before went, bravely to go.” The word for “before,” gō, also means “underneath” or “below.” In Valyrian, the cultural metaphor for time is vertical—the past is below and the future is above. The tattoo was a success.
10. High Valyrian is the only language Peterson has worked on for House of the Dragon so far.
In a podcast interview, Peterson said that he needed to “[expand] the vocabulary” of High Valyrian for House of the Dragon, noting, “There was a lot more dialogue than I was expecting, which I was very pleased by. And a lot of very well written dialogue, which I was also pleased by. It really challenged me as a translator. ... This is probably the most High Valyrian that I’ve done in a season. I was really pleasantly surprised by that. It’s not the most work I’ve done on a season, but it’s the most Valyrian that I’ve done.”
A version of this story ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2022.