Reviews of The Art of Language Invention and The

Reviews of The Art of Language Invention and The

Interpreter’s Tale

Author: Don Boozer

MS Date: 09-22-2015

FL Date: 10-01-2015

FL Number: FL-000031-00

Citation: Boozer, Don. 2015. «Reviews of The Art of

Language Invention and The Interpreter’s
Tale.» FL-000031-00, Fiat Lingua,
. Web. 01 October
2015.

Copyright: © 2015 Don Boozer. This work is licensed

under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

Fiat Lingua is produced and maintained by the Language Creation Society (LCS). For more information
about the LCS, visit http://www.conlang.org/

For the Conlanging Community and Beyond:

A Review of David J. Peterson’s

The Art of Language Invention

by
Don Boozer

The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words
Behind World-Building.
978-0-14-312646-1. $17.00 ($22.00 CAN). index. (E-book and Audio download also
available.)

David J. Peterson. New York: Penguin Books. 2015.

conlang

When the word
was enshrined within the venerable

in June 2014, many conlangers rightly rejoiced. It was a major milestone in the public
awareness of the secret vice of language construction. The decision of Penguin – a
major, mainstream publishing house – to release David J. Peterson’s
Language Invention
another high-water mark in the long process of making the public-at-large aware of the
art and craft of language invention.

(which, at its heart, is a conlanging how-to guide) establishes

Oxford English Dictionary

The Art of

Conlangers, novices and long-time language creators alike, will find much to happily
pore over in the book and will greatly appreciate Peterson’s contribution to the subject
at hand. However, the book is specifically designed to appeal to a wider audience than
language creators alone.

Readers of Ben Zimmer, John McWhorter, and Steven Pinker’s books on language will
find Peterson’s new book enjoyable as well. As John McWhorter himself says in his
praise for
The Art of Language Invention

to what linguistics is.”

, it is “the handiest introduction in existence

In the Land of Invented Languages

Where Arika Okrent’s
From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages
and phenomenon of constructed languages (and established Okrent as a go-to expert
on this topic), their works didn’t look at the process of creating a language.
Nonetheless, Peterson’s book is also tailor-made to appeal to the same audience as
these books, now looking at a new aspect of language creation: the techniques and
tools.

(2009) and Michael Adams’

(2011) examined the history

Peterson’s position is currently unique with respect to conlanging. The productions
with which he has been involved are part of the popular Zeitgeist and have (for the
most part) been wildly successful. This provides another built-in audience for the
current work. While George R.R. Martin created Dothraki, it is Peterson’s version of
that language that the characters speak in
. Additionally, a fan base

has built up around those languages created for the other television series that have
included Peterson’s work. People who have no intention of creating a language
themselves want to learn all they can about Dothraki, Valyrian, Irathient, Castithan,

Game of Thrones

and the other languages Peterson has created.
a gold mine for them, too.

The Art of Language Invention

will be

This expanded audience for a book unabashedly about conlanging by a proud,
unapologetic conlanger makes it a significant work.

1

(2010) and

The Art of Language Invention

While a wider audience may come to a better understanding of the work that goes into
creating a language through Peterson’s book (and hopefully a better appreciation of
the craft itself), it should be clearly stated that
is by no

means the first step-by-step guide to conlanging. One of the most well-known works of
this kind among conlangers remains the
Language Construction Kit (LCK) created by

Mark Rosenfelder (aka Zompist) in the late 1990s. Rosenfelder also published a print
version of the LCK in 2010 as well as follow-up volumes including
Construction Kit
website is now available in English, Portuguese, Italian, and German versions and was
How to
also the basis of a site originally created by Pablo David Flores in the late 1990s:

create a language
create a language was the
Beth Wells-Jensen. These conlanging how-to sites did not reach far beyond the borders
of the conlanging community nor were they necessarily intended to. Additionally,
conlangers looking for a “manual” have also turned to Thomas Payne’s
Describing

Morphosyntax: A Guide for Field Linguists
full of possibilities to consider including in one’s language; however, it was written
from the perspective of (and intended to aid) the field linguist not the conlanger.

2
. Another more-concise effort to demonstrate the steps needed to

from Sheri

The Planet

Advanced Language Construction Kit

(1997). This served as a robust template

Language Creation Guide

[Bowling Green]

(2012). The LCK

BG

3

Peterson has produced an enjoyable and well-crafted how-to manual for conlangers by
a dedicated conlanger with an eye on educating the wider world on what’s involved in
practicing the art.

So, what does Peterson’s work specifically offer the inquisitive reader?

5

4

6

To begin with, anyone who follows David J. Peterson on his social media outlets (e.g.,
Twitter , Tumblr ), reads his blogs and website (e.g., Dothraki: A Language of Fire and
Blood , David J. Peterson’s Web Thing ), or even happens upon his Reddit AMA from
2012 will instantly recognize the informal and enjoyable writing style displayed in
Art of Language Invention
. Peterson’s conversational style and use of pop culture

references (more on this below) make the book accessible even when it is tackling
complex topics. This also makes the availability of an audiobook version (read by
Peterson himself) a welcome option, providing a perfect complement to the print
version. While the reader gets to relish in the visual creativity of conlanging, the

8

7

The

http://www.zompist.com/kit.html  

http://www.angelfire.com/scifi2/nyh/how__all.html 

http://www.fridaynightlinguistics.org/languagecreation/ 

1 Language Construction Kit: 
2 How to create a language: 
3 BG Language Creation Guide: 
4 @Dedalvs, 



https://twitter.com/dedalvs  

http://dedalvs.tumblr.com/

http://www.dothraki.com/  

http://dedalvs.com/  

https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/r849y/mathchomaroon_my_name_is_david_j_peterson_and_im/  

 (Imeimei) 

listener gets to hear Peterson pronounce all the natural language and conlang words
and phrases appearing throughout the work. While the audiobook could not be
reviewed in its entirety, an excerpt from Chapter 1 is available online. Peterson’s
complementary YouTube channel for the book also promises to be an interesting
learning tool for the curious.

10

9

Peterson peppers the book with pop culture references, and this provides one of the
characteristics that makes his presentation of linguistic and con-linguistic themes
unique. Among a myriad of others, making appearances are David Bowie, Iron Maiden,
The Simpsons.
Sonata Arctica , Trapper Keepers, Heart

13

, and infixation examples from

Cats also make appearances throughout the book.

12

11

Peterson provides an eclectic selection of natural languages to provide exemplars of
various linguistic concepts: Arabic, Hindi, Inuktitut, etc. He also uses sentences to
illustrate these concepts in an unexpected or humorous way. For example, using “The
coyote gave the prisoner an onion” in explaining valency. In all, Peterson mentions 89
languages (plus English) in the book.

14

16

17

15

well over

three dozen are non-Petersonian conlangs. It is

Of those 89 languages,
Peterson’s enthusiasm for using other conlangers’ creations to provide examples of the
limitless possibilities of the language creation arts that sets this work apart. He
provides kudos to Sylvia Sotomayor’s Kēlen , Carsten Becker’s Ayeri
18
Moskowitz’s Rikchik , Doug Ball’s Skerre , and many more. Additionally, linguistic
constructions get conlang examples. Peterson even uses his own little-known 19
non-commercial creation, Kamakawi
and even includes it as one of the phrasebook appendices. He has expressed a fondness
for this conlang, and it even appears in second place on the index directly below
Dothraki on his own Web Thing site. The inclusion of these constructed languages
clearly demonstrates Peterson’s use of his celebrity to not just promote his own work
but his passion to expose that expanded audience discussed earlier to the wider
conlanging community’s artists and their work. He has consistently done this in many
of his interviews and articles, and the presence of those conlangers highlighted in
The

Art of Language Invention
continue to display his respect for the craft in general and

for those conlangers whose work deserve wider recognition.

The Art of Language Invention

, throughout

, Denis

20

21

https://soundcloud.com/penguin­audio/the­art­of­language  

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgJSf­fmdfUsSlcr7A92­aA  

http://sonataarctica.info/  


10 
11 
12 the musical group 
13 on page 101 for the curious 
14 
15 
16 
17 
18 
19 that is, little­known outside the conlanging community 
20 
21 

https://www.tumblr.com/dedalvs/129228857180/list-of-languages-in-the-art-of-language-invention



http://www.terjemar.net/kelen.php  

http://benung.nfshost.com/  

http://www.suberic.net/~dmm/rikchik/rikchik.html  

http://dedalvs.conlang.org/smileys/2014.html  

http://dedalvs.conlang.org/kamakawi/main.html  

http://dedalvs.com/  

As for layout, the book moves from the building blocks of language (Sounds) to the
building blocks of meaning (Words). Peterson then looks at how languages change over
time and how conlangers can exploit that (Evolution). The chapters finish with an
examination of the various methods of how languages get represented visually (The
Written Word).

only has four

The Art of Language Invention

However, do not think that the fact that
chapters implies that only four topics are covered. Far from it. Within those chapters
are almost ten times the number of various linguistic topics of varying complexity
including Phonotactics, Pragmatic Intonation, Contour and Register Tone Languages,
Sign Language, Alien Sound Systems, Grammatical Gender, Nominal Inflection
Exponence, Valency, Lexical Evolution, Types of Orthographies, and Typography.
Through it all, Peterson’s friendly writing style provides a reassuring tone regardless of
the subject. And even David J. Peterson finds some language aspects difficult: “And
now we get to my least favorite part of language. Not just creating languages, or
conlangs: language
aspect system
It’s also one of the most important parts, which makes everything just
the worst. So. Let’s jump right in!” And he can be encouraging as well: For example, in
summing up case systems: “Once you create a case language, you won’t go back — or at
without a fight
least not without a fight. (And, yes,

language ever created has a simple tense, modality,

would be the abessive case.)”

period

no

​…

The «Case Study» accompanying each of the four chapters is a great feature, and one
that will be devoured and dissected by
● The Sound of Dothraki (Sounds)
● Irathient Nouns (Words)
● High Valyrian Verbs (Evolution)
● Evolution of the Castithan Writing System (The Written Word)

Game of Thrones

Defiance

fans:

and

These provide wonderful concrete examples of the multitude of concepts discussed in
each chapter.

Fans of Peterson’s languages will also be thrilled at the eight Phrase Books that
complete the book, each with 15 translated phrases. The sentences are based on
Dothraki so readers will learn that the famous “My sun and stars” phrase of the
horse-lords is “Ichuko veraho ki shiralino” in Castithan. Each of the phrases are also
written in the native orthography of the language, again providing fans an enjoyable
experience.

22

Finally, some readers may be tempted to skip over the book’s final section entitled
Postscript, but this would be a mistake. Readers familiar with Peterson’s 2002 piece
The

Conlang Manifesto may see shadows of it in the opening paragraphs of the Postscript
where he discusses the meaning of “art” and how it relates specifically to the art of
language invention. As previously, he makes a compelling apologia for conlanging as
an art form. However, he also expands on this idea and looks to the future of language
construction. As part of this, Peterson once again makes a strong statement in support
of the broader conlanging community and urges readers to seek out the work of others
online:

22 

http://dedalvs.conlang.org/notes/manifesto.php  

Game of Thrones

“The only reason people know who I am or know a thing about any of my
languages is because of
you enjoyed looking at my languages even a little bit, I guarantee you’ll find
others you like even more elsewhere. We haven’t seen a conlanging masterpiece
yet, but when we do, I guarantee you that it won’t have been created for a show
or film. A good conlang takes time to develop, and a conlanger who works on
their own has all the time in the world. There’s no doubt in my mind that the
best is yet to come.”

and the rest of it. But if

Defiance

and

apart from any other recent book looking at language

It is Peterson’s unflagging enthusiasm for fellow conlangers and their work that sets
The Art of Language Invention
creation. He has become one of the most-visible, well-known, and approachable
conlangers ever but has also become the quintessential cheerleader for the art of
language invention. This book clearly demonstrates his determination to promote that
art and its artists to the wider world to the best of his ability. The conlanging
community can be thankful for a new how-to guide, full of useful information in an
eminently readable style. Fans of Peterson’s languages will have a field day poring
over the newly-presented details of their favorite conlangs. And lovers of language will
be introduced to an art they may not even have known existed and to the practitioners
of that art.

In short, how is the

The Art of Language Invention

?

Feya!

23

*** Bonus Review ***

A Conlanging Perspective on

The Interpreter’s Tale

The Interpreter’s Tale: A Word With Too Many Meanings.
Independent Publishing Platform. 2014. 978-1-50-329562-9. $11.00 pbk.

E.M. Epps. CreateSpace

E.M. Epps has written an engaging story of political intrigue, international relations,
love in many forms, and — of course — language. And while it does take some time to
keep the characters and their multisyllabic names and nicknames straight, the reader
will quickly adjust and be swept up in the tale. The plotline is original and full of
unexpected twists and turns.

This being a review with an emphasis on conlanging (and a bonus review to
complement the piece above), it should be noted that one will
extensive passages in the book in Henanue, Tsiane, Hadra, or any of the many dialects
hinted at by Epps. Instead, the author has done a masterful job of hinting at the
complexity of those languages and depicting the difficulty with which one
communicates in a foreign tongue. The frustrations of the polyglot interpreter of the

find a glossary or

not

23 Excellent! in Kamakawi 

title, Eliadmaru Devesento Faraa (also known as “Marika”), are clearly portrayed and
can be fully appreciated by the reader.

One particularly effective plot point shows Eliadmaru becoming increasingly
frustrated with the Ambassador in his delegation who thinks he can speak the native
language but who sounds ridiculous, unbeknownst to the Ambassador but glaringly
apparent to Eliadmaru. Epps shows this cleverly in several passages including:

“But in that case there was really only

[The Ambassador said,] “Today, I said ‘establish a friendship,” and you said
something completely different!…”
“No, I didn’t make a mistake,” he said
one way to put it in Tsiane.”
“How the hell can it be correct?” growled the Ambassador. “Establish is
-rasa-
“You can’t say it that way in Tsiane,” he said, keeping his voice as flat as he
was able.
“Of course, you can!” the Ambassador insisted.
“You
formally declare you want Dayono and the Empire to become drinking buddies?
If you did, I stand corrected.”

, but it means something different. Unless you meant to very

, and you didn’t say either such!”

, ‘friendship’ is

atae

can

And the conversation escalates from there. Epps’ subtle hinting at the nuances of
Tsiane are extremely effective. “In such-and-such dialect a voiced bilabial stop
becomes a fricative intervocalically. In
these

assimilates to the same point of articulation as a consonant immediately following.”

prefixes, but not these, a final nasal

And conlangers also get to guess at the structure of the languages. The Tsiane word
-gitsa-
could mean “‘increase’ or ‘diminish’ or ‘assist’ or something else entirely” (it

appears in a philosophical treatise). There is also
word he wanted meant ‘avoid.’
hyphens hint at both prefixes and suffixes, and that list could be either conjugations or
a list of similar words. Again, tantalizing clues!

-pefa-

-Pefona-, -pespuroi-, -pefa, -pefa-, -pefa-

“…that meant ‘abhor,’ and

…” All those

latsareta
Readers also discover that the Tsiane word for “a body without a soul” is

another passage, we get a hint of another language: “She said a word in Hadra, a
simple spell.
sentences in a single word. Common enough in our world’s languages, but a clue
nonetheless.

.” So, one knows that Hadra encodes entire English

You are bound

. In

The reader also gets a sense of the orthography of Tsiane with phrases like “swirls of
Tsiane” and “there was a ligature in one of the words that he never mastered, which
meant that he got it right every time and then messed something else up directly
after

Epps does provide a handy pronunciation guide on her website (complete with audio
files). It would be interesting to see entirely fleshed out versions of the languages

24

24 http://www.emepps.com/itpron.php 

The Interpreter’s Tale

, but the lack of them in the book in no way
portrayed in

detracts from the storyline. In fact, the glimpses the reader gets add to the
verisimilitude and allow one to truly get an idea of the complicated work of the
interpreter. It may be interesting to see what someone could do with the names and
scattered vocabulary Epps provides, but the book – standing firmly on its own – is an
entertaining read for language lovers of all kinds.

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