Last Monday, HBO issued a press release announcing that they'd hired David J. Peterson through the Language Creation Society to develop the Dothraki language for the upcoming Game of Thrones TV show. Both David and Sai Emrys, the president of the Language Creation Society, were kind enough to answer some of my questions about the genesis of Dothraki.
EBW: I haven't read the books in a while, but I only remember a few Dothraki words -- khalasar, khaleesi. About how big was the lexicon you started with?
David J. Peterson: There isn't much extant material in the novels themselves -- about thirty words, most of them names. There's enough there, though, to give one a sense of what the language might sound like if it were fleshed out. That's not to say there's only one possible way the Dothraki language could have turned out (the initial proposals were quite divergent), but for me, there was enough material to figure out what direction I wanted to take.
EBW: Khal Drogo speaks to Dany in Westerosi some of the time. Did his mistakes in that language give you hints about the structure of Dothraki?
DJP: There are a number of elements that were borrowed in; for example, he refers to the Iron Throne as the "iron chair." Consequently, it would be a bit strange for there to be a word like "throne" in Dothraki (if there were, presumably he would use the Westerosi/English word "throne"). One thing I did was further refine just how Dothraki-tinged English works. When I was at UCSD, I spent three years working under Grant Goodall for a class on first and second language acquisition, and I learned a lot about the types of errors that language learners make -- what's a likely error, and what isn't -- and I think based on the structure of Dothraki, I've come up with a pretty realistic not-quite-fluent "mode," if you will, for native Dothraki speakers speaking English (and also vice-versa).