The Valyrian languages form a vast language family spanning a significant portion of Essos, including the Free Cities and Slaver's Bay. All variants are natively called "Valyrian", which can be quite misleading. This is not unlike the situation of Latin in the early Middle Ages as it started to develop into different national languages. For example, a very old form of what would come to be French was termed "Latin" in the Strasbourg Oaths (ca. 842 A.D.) as opposed to the Germanic language that would become German. In this article we will consistently contrast the ancient language of Valyria with its many modern descendants with the terms "High Valyrian" and "Low Valyrian" respectively, although the latter term is not attested in the books. Furthermore, we will differentiate Low Valyrian as the form used in the Free Cities, as opposed to Ghiscari Valyrian, the language from which the variants of Slaver's Bay sprung.
Probably the best way to approach the Valyrian languages is not to consider them as fully different languages but rather, as Tyrion puts it, "... not so much a dialect as nine dialects on the way to becoming separate tongues". These dialects descended from High Valyrian are sometimes also collectively called "Bastard Valyrian" for their perceived corruption as compared to the mother tongue.
The Valyrian languages are all descended ultimately from High Valyrian, the language of lore and poetry in Valyria of Old. There is one main split in Low Valyrian and it is the difference between the Valyrian as spoken in the Free Cities and the one as spoken in the cities of Slaver's Bay. For the purpose of the chart below, "Low Valyrian" will refer specifically to the Free Cities dialects (in opposition to the "Ghiscari Valyrian" variants of Slaver's Bay). However note that, in other contexts, the same term is frequently used more broadly to encompass all the descendants of High Valyrian, including the Ghiscari ones.
|Slaver's Bay Valyrian|
|Northern Low Valyrian||Southern Low Valyrian||Southern S.B. Valyrian|
The chart illustrates the relationship of the different dialects of the Valyrian continuum. Speakers of each of the variants will most likely refer to their language as Valyrian. This is illustrated by an exchange between Daenerys Targaryen and Missandei on their way to Yunkai:
- "Missandei, what language will these Yunkai'i speak, Valyrian?"
- "Yes, Your Grace," the child said. "A different dialect than Astapor's, yet close enough to understand...."
This is because, from the perspective of the speakers, they have continuously used Valyrian even if borrowing from other languages. In the case of Slaver's Bay Valyrian, this would be from the extinct Ghiscari language. To them, the difference between the language they speak and High Valyrian might be akin to the difference between the language as it is daily spoken, and the language of books, culture and higher education. As mentioned above, it is important to bear in mind that these variants are rather more like dialects in their way to becoming fully fledged different languages, some words are still pretty similar to their High Valyrian forms as Arya noticed in Braavos:
- "Arya only knew a few words of Braavosi, the ones that were the same in High Valyrian."
This is also seen in Romance languages, for example the Latin for "animal" is animal, which happens to be the same in Spanish, and French (and, for that matter, even English!) Some other words might be more different, such as for example the High Valyrian word for "Unsullied" which is Dovaogēdy, but Dovoghedhy in Astapori Valyrian. This is also reflected when Sam admits:
- "I only have a little High Valyrian, and when they speak to me in Braavosi I cannot understand half of what they're saying."
Low Valyrian of the Free Cities
The Low Valyrian of the Free Cities is comprised of at least nine variants mentioned up to now. It's main division is geographical, a Northern branch and a Southern one. The Northern branch includes the varieties spoken at Braavos, Lorath, Pentos, Norvos and Qohor. While the Southern branch is comprised of the varieties spoken at Myr, Tyrosh, Lys and Volantis. The two variants are believed to have derived from a common ancestor, making any of the descendants of each branch more closely related to the other members than they are to members of the other branch. This is further illustrated by that time when Danaerys, trading in the Western Market in Vaes Dothrak, says she spoke in:
- "Valyrian, Valyrian as they spoke it in the Free Cities. The words felt strange on her tongue, after so long." The merchant, upon hearing this, guesses that she is from Tyrosh. She replies,
- "My speech may be Tyroshi..." .
This was despite her having spent a long time in Pentos.
Ghiscari Valyrian is comprised of at least four variants we know of. The most prominent of these is called Astapori Valyrian, the other members being Yunkish Valyrian, Meereenese Valyrian and New Ghiscari Valyrian. It is divided into two main groups, the Slaver's Bay Valyrian which is comprised of the variants spoken in the different cities of Slaver's Bay: Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen. The other important subdivision is the variant used at New Ghis, which is located on an island, providing a more isolated environment, leading us to believe it may be much more divergent from the variants used in the cities of Slaver's Bay than any of them is with each other. This is represented in the chart above.
In particular Astapori Valyrian is described in the books as having a "characteristic growl," influenced by Ghiscari. A characteristic possibly shared by the other varieties of Ghiscari Valyrian.
- ↑ A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion I.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords p.476
- ↑ Martin, George R.R. (2005). A Feast for Crows. Bantam Dell. p. 314. ISBN 978-0-553-80150-7.
- ↑ Martin, George R.R. (2005). A Feast for Crows. Bantam Dell. p. 382. ISBN 978-0-553-80150-7.
- ↑ Martin, George R.R. (1996). A Game of Thrones. Bantam Dell. p. 589. ISBN 978-0-553-57340-4.
- ↑ Martin, George R.R. (2000). A Storm of Swords. Bantam Dell. p. 258. ISBN 0-553-38170-9.