From Reality to Fiction

This is an English translation of the original post “Bho Fìrinn gu Ficsean

Almost everyone I know is watching Game of Thrones at the moment, a TV program set around a civil war in a fictional land of Westeros that’s rather similar to medieval Britain.  It’s very good, even if I find it a little slow-going at times, and one of the things that makes the programme so gripping is how deep the backstory is.  Stories are told of kings from thousands of years before and wars centuries ago.  These little things bring the audience closer to the story and create a much more believable world.

When I was reading up on the program I learned a few interesting things about the way that the different houses/families’ accents were conceived.  The accents of the people of Westeros are mostly as you would expect them to be across England.  The Starks from the north have an accent that you’d expect from the north of England while the Lannisters from the south have an accent more akin to the nobleman of the south.  People from outside Westeros have foreign accents, like Oberyn Martell’s French twang.  I didn’t notice this naturally, but when I realised I found it to be a very skilful technique.  This makes you create an attitude towards the characters based on your feelings towards the people from that part of Britain in real life.  I’m sure that this nuance might go unnoticed among American audiences but it will be in every Brit’s thoughts when watching, even if subconsciously.

Perhaps the most interesting example of language use, though, is the Dothraki tribe – under the rule of Daenerys Targaryen – that have their own unique language, not just an accent.  The show’s producers drafted in linguist David Peterson to create a sensible language from the excerpts of it found in the novels.  He came up with nearly 4,000 Dothraki words for the programme to use so that they could have a rather natural language instead of gibberish.  It sounds very like a real language, sure enough, even if it’s not a particularly pleasant one.

Radio 4 did a segment on the Dothraki language last year and estimated that more people hear a few words of Dothraki or Valyrian, another language created for the show, each week than Gaelic, Welsh or Irish Gaelic combined.  It shows just how powerful these shows are in projecting a message or ideal.

I don’t think that thousands are clamouring to learn Dothraki at the moment, but I’m sure there are a devoted few who are.  Think of the thousands of people who speak Klingon, which is used in Star Trek.  There are also a number of people who have learned some of the languages used in the Lord of the Rings books and films, originally written by linguist J.R.R. Tolkien.  If people have a real interest in a book, film or programme, they want to immerse themselves even deeper in its fictional world.  This can be said in reverse about real languages too.

Certainly Gaelic, Welsh and Irish Gaelic are stronger languages both technically and culturally than these fictional creations, and as such I think they’d be better to use in fiction than a new language.  It would be brilliant if a program, such as Game of Thrones, was to use Gaelic as it would not only be easy for them to write (with an established vocabulary and set of grammar rules) but it would encourage people to learn more about the language.  It would be a win-win.  I think this could be really successful way of increasing the status of the language and giving it a little more exposure at the same time.  People could then learn more about Gaelic culture and find it just as interesting as the programme itself.

This idea has already been in put in to play.  Some Gaelic will be used in the TV show Outlander, set and filmed in Scotland, which starts on US channel Starz in August.  It’s not quite as big a channel as HBO, the makers of Game of Thrones, but perhaps Outlander might take off in the same way and Gaelic will get some exposure with a bigger and broader audience.

There’s a desperate need for Gaelic to carve out its own niche to attract new speakers and perhaps if programmes used a little Gaelic here and there that it would give some people the encouragement they need to pick up the language.  Outlander might just be the first trial of Gaelic’s success in a high profile setting.

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