English isn’t the only dialect uttered among the magical characters on “The Shannara Chronicles” — and the actors who communicate in the special Druid language (which was featured during this week’s two-hour premiere episode) are opening up about the unique and fictional form of fantasy speech.
In a bonus “Behind the Scenes” interview below, Manu Bennett (Allanon), Shushila Takao (The Changeling) and Jed Brophy (Dagda Mor) reveal their thoughts about the made-up MTV jargon entitled Noalath — which was created by David J. Peterson (whose credits also includes Dothraki and High Valyrian from “Game of Thrones”).
“It’s a foreign language that I wouldn’t have taken up in school,” Bennett jokes about his onscreen fictional native tongue, while Brophy adds that “it sounds fantastic, especially if you say it with a slightly Slavic accent.”
Fun-talk aside, Bennett reflects on the moments where he has to employ this other form of dialogue — and how these interactions are different from those with the other Four Lands inhabitants.
“It’s something that obviously sets the tone, where I go into these scenes with the Dagda Mor and we have to speak this language — and it definitely shows that we come from this other dimension that has its own language,” the New Zealander adds.
MTV News also spoke with Peterson about his work process of creating a new language, how Noalath came to be and comparing/contrasting the aforementioned language to the words recited in Westeros. Check out the extensive interview with Peterson below then be sure to catch brand-new episodes of “The Shannara Chronicles” every Tuesday at 10e/7p!
What is your personal process for creating a new language? And more specifically, how did you come up with the Druid language?
In creating any language for a production, I start by figuring out what the producers/writers need. In the case of “The Shannara Chronicles,” what we needed was an ancient language that was still in use by a select few. It’s a language that would grow with time, as ours do on Earth, but which would need to have an older feel to it. My first step was to figure out the kind of sound I wanted, and then to start building the grammar, with the vocabulary coming last. In addition, the history of the language has to be built up a bit to give the language a sense of depth. It needs to feel like something that’s been around for centuries, not something that popped into one’s head one afternoon. The name of the language is Noalath, which translates to “The Great Tongue.”
Do any languages (real or fictional) serve as the inspiration for this special Druid dialect?
In fact, the inspiration for this language came from the various names that Terry Brooks developed: Allanon, Shannara, Shea, Amberle… I loved the rhythm of them. I tried to develop a sound system that would support the creation of not only these names, but others very much like them in their phonological character. Everything else followed from it. At approximately the same time as I was developing Noalath for “The Shannara Chronicles,” I was also developing a language called Kinuk’aaz for “Defiance” on Syfy. This afforded me with a unique opportunity: to take one small feature (in this case, consonant mutation) and do two radically different things with it to produce two radically different languages. In a way, the languages are kind of inversions of one another, so the one would serve to inspire something opposite in the other, and vice-versa.
Are High Valyrian and/or Dothraki similar to the Druid language? Or completely different?
Structurally, one would be forced to say Dothraki is more like Noalath than High Valyrian, but even so, the similarities are few and far between. Where they are similar is the placement of the verb and object, and the noun and adjective (in precisely these orders in both languages). After that, the comparisons break down. The most unique thing about Noalath is the verbal system. The verbs themselves don’t inflect, which might make one think the system is simpler than something like Dothraki, where the verbs do. But in fact it’s much more complicated, as it involves numerous particles and numerous different orders, depending on the tense and aspect. It was a lot of fun to create, a lot of fun to use, and a lot of fun to speak. Noalath’s become one of my favorite languages.
What languages do you speak — besides the ones you have created?
I speak English very well, and Spanish like a pochito, as my grandmother says. Beyond those, I’ve studied a number of languages either in a classroom setting or on my own, and I’ve achieved wildly varying levels of competency with them. In chronological order, the languages I’ve studied are: German, Latin, Arabic, Russian, Esperanto, French, Middle Egyptian hieroglyphs, Hawaiian, Turkish, American Sign Language, Moro, Akkadian, Attic Greek, Modern Greek, Hindi, Japanese, and, at the moment, Finnish. As someone who’s studied linguistics, I also have familiarity with a number of other languages in a more clinical capacity.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I have a book out called “The Art of Language Invention” that details my process of creating a language. It, unfortunately, doesn’t include any Noalath, for the simple reason that the book was completed before I started work on “The Shannara Chronicles,” but I look forward to discussing the language once the show has aired. Those interested can find me on Twitter and Tumblr, as well as at my own website.
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