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George RR Martin is, by his own admission, not a linguist, and as such he has not done a great deal of linguistic heavy lifting in his storyverse. I believe this shows through in the narrative's use of language; while it can be argued that the Common Tongue of Westeros is not an analogue to English (the English books then being a translation of that Common Tongue), it's my general sense from many of the place names and common idioms in use (especially in the north) that the language of the characters in Westeros really is analogous to a pre-modern form of English, say a century or so after Shakespeare.

I'm wondering, though, if there is any firmer evidence that there are other language analogues in Westeros or Essos. For example, it's probably uncontroversial to posit that Valyrian holds a similar position in Essosi society that Latin holds in European society, being the language of a foundational empire and a progenator of several contemporary Essosi tongues and dialects, but that does not make Valyrian analogous as a language to Latin. To be analogous in the sense that I mean, a speaker of a real-world language should be able to hold a basic conversation with a speaker of a Westerosi or Essosi language.

Is there any evidence that Dornish, say, is analogous to Spanish, or that the tongue of the Children of the Forest is analogous to Gaelic?


Note: this question primarily concerns the books, but I would not be opposed to show-canon answers or comments.

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    If we can't accept Common Tongue as the "written tongue" than we can't really accept any of the written estimations of all the other languages. I think the real-world analogues to peoples and places can be used as a direct plug for the languages they are supposed to have. – Gorchestopher H Jun 30 '16 at 13:32
  • For this to have an answer, I think there needs to be passages of the original, untranslated language. Are there passages of Dornish in the books? – DCShannon Jun 30 '16 at 18:28
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Short Answer

There is no in-world evidence that any non-common tongue language is analogous to any real-world language. There is canon evidence to the contrary for the Dothraki and Valyrian languages. There is evidence from the author that, currently, apart from the common tongue, no languages in A Song of Ice and Fire are or are not considered to be analogous to any real-world language, as he just hasn't thought about it (although he does seem to like what David J. Peterson has done with Dothraki and Valyrian).

Long Answer

First of all, these pages list (as far as I'm aware) all of the times that other (non-common tongue) languages appear in the books:

  • Dothraki (Corpus)

  • High Valyrian(Corpus)

  • Other languages: The Common Tongue, The Old Tongue, High Valyrian, Low Valyrian (Tyroshi, Braavosi and Slaver Cities), Ghiscari, Qartheen, The Language of Asshai, Lhazareen, The Summer Tongue, The Trade Tongue, Other Languages (Jogos Nhai, Bayasabhad, Shamyriana, Kayakayanaya, Ibbenese, etc.), The Children of the Forest's language, The Others' Language, Necromancy and communication between animals such as Direwolves.

Now, David J. Peterson created the languages in the TV show, but to do this he had to start with the languages in the books. Apart from the above words in the books he took inspiration for Dothraki from Russian, Turkish, Estonian, Inuktitut and Swahili. He has also said here that:

"To an untrained ear, it might sound like Arabic. To someone who knows Arabic, it doesn’t. I tend to think of the sound as a mix between Arabic (minus the distinctive pharyngeals) and Spanish, due to the dental consonants."

In other words, Dothraki is unlike any individual real-world language. Especially considering that there are so few words in the books.

As for Valyrian, there's High Valyrian, which plays the equivalent role to Latin. There's also Low Valyrian, which is what's actually spoken and are actually a series of related languages, equivalent to the Romance languages. Again, none of the Valyrian languages would be analogous to a real-world language (dead or otherwise).

In terms of out of world comments from GRRM, from here:

"The best I could do was try to sketch in each of the chief tongues of my imaginary world in broad strokes, and give them each their characteristic sounds and spellings."

Suggesting that he might have an idea of what the languages sound like, although he's not saying that any of his languages are or are not analogous to any real-world languages, he seems to be saying that he's thinking of them in terms of what they sound like. This does suggest that, as he cannot actually speak any languages other than English.

According to this, GRRM just made up the words that he needed in the book and this further suggests that (considering how important Valyrian is) he hasn't really thought about any of the languages apart from the basic sound and spelling. Or,

"Uh... well... all I know about High Valyrian is the seven words I've made up to date. When I need an eighth, I'll make that up too... but I don't have a whole imaginary language in my desk here, the way Tolkien did."

Which suggests that whether or not any of the created languages are analogous to any real-world languages just hasn't been thought of.

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