A Game of Thrones in Indo-European: proto-languages in Westeros and Essos, and population genomics

I think proto-languages can be applied to basically any appropriate prehistoric setting, and especially to science fiction and fantasy settings. I often viewed the lack of interest for them as based on the idea that they are not fantastic enough, that they would render a fantastic world too realistic to allow for an adequate immersion of the reader (or viewer) into a new world.

With time, I have become more and more convinced that most authors don’t use proto-languages (or tweaked versions of them) simply because they can’t, and resort to the easier way: inventing some rules and words based on some basic ideas and sounds they feel would fit a certain culture or people, to get going. After all, world-building is about a good enough, not too detailed description, and books are about characters and settings, not worlds.

After the end of the 7th season of the Game of Thrones TV series, of which I have become a great fan, I had some season finale grief to deal with, so I thought about applying what we knew about Proto-Indo-Europeans to the fantasy world. Since all book translations deal with English names as if they were translations of the Common Tongue (e.g. Spanish “Invernalia” or “Poniente” for “Winterfel” or “Westeros”), the idea of a translation into Proto-Indo-European seemed quite interesting.

NOTE. I understand that, for some, the idea that “the original language is the best” would make them reject this. However, just take into account the millions who enjoy the books and the TV series only in their native language, and know nothing about the ‘original’ version…

Here are the text and images:

A Dance with Old Tongues

As you can see, the idea of the Common Tongue being Late Proto-Indo-European brings about a whole new (infinite) world of dialectal evolution, language contacts, and population expansions which must be established for the whole setting to work. This is what the text I began to write was about: to use languages (and related populations) of ca. 6000-1500 BC, and to avoid anachronisms and impossible language relationships.

As an added advantage, fans of role-playing games could expand their world with the use of the language correspondences and the maps. This way, instead of “Northern English” being spoken in the North, and “Spanish English” being spoken in Dorne, according to some selections that have been naturally criticized, you have ancient languages that fit with the ancient setting, and which were actually related to each other.

8-westeros-essos-languages-equivalence
Equivalence of languages of the known world with coeval proto-languages. Solid red lines divide Graeco-Aryan from Northern Indo-European dialects (Tocharian is separated from North-West Indo-European by a dotted red line). See all maps.

I also began drawing a fantasy map, my first one – even though I have been member of Cartographer’s Guild for years – , which eventually helped me with my updates of maps of prehistoric migrations, and even with the use of arrows and colors for scientific publications. I drew details mainly to illustrate the text, not to offer a comprehensive translated world. Most of the work was done in the Summer of 2017, with some map changes done in 2018 with help of the maps and works of fans.

NOTE. I have reviewed it during some long travels lately, and included names of “bloodlines” (i.e. haplogroups), which I find more interesting today for people to understand bottlenecks during prehistoric migrations; I have also added a map using pie charts. If this doesn’t fit well with the whole picture, it’s because it’s a recent addition. The rest is more or less the same as one-two years ago.

I don’t have time now to correct much of what I wrote. I have forgotten most of the relevant details from the books, especially A World of Ice and Fire which I think helped me a lot with this, and I am sure that after writing A Song of Sheep and Horses (now you know the why of the book names) I would deal with some language identification and cognates differently.

I decided to publish it to liven up our Facebook page of Modern Indo-European now that the 8th season is near, so that people can participate and try to translate (translatable) names and expressions into Proto-Indo-European, to see how it would work out. You can also request access our Modern Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European groups; both are administered mainly by Fernando.

If you think this whole idea is crazy, or a huge loss of time, I agree; this is how you lose your time when you like fantasy, comic books, etc. But I am a great fan of fantasy and fiction, and I had a lot of free time back then, so I couldn’t help it…

On the other hand, if you feel that mixing fantasy (or SF) with the Proto-Indo-European question (especially population genomics) is a bad idea, I may have agreed with that two years ago, and maybe this is the reason why I hesitated to publish it then.

Hoewever, today we can read a whole new (2018 and 2019) bunch of “steppe ancestry=Indo-European” fantasies: invisible Nganasan reindeer hordes, a Fearsome Tisza River where Yamna settlers mysteriously disappear, shapeshifting Dutch CWC peoples who change haplogroups, languages dependent on cephalic types, or Yamna/Bell Beaker expanding Vasconic…So what’s the matter with some more fantasy?