High Valyrian was an ancient language spoken in Old Valyria. It originated from the Freehold, and when the Valyrian empire expanded throughout Westeros, it became the primary dialect in the continent. It got re-engineered by many cultures and cities, including the Free Cities and Slaver’s Bay, to tongues such as Bastard Valyrian. After the Doom of the Freehold, the language’s influence remained huge in Essos, but the Westerosi spoke in the common tongue. House Targaryen and Velaryon used the language to command dragons before the Civil War. Some of the great houses of Westeros also traced their past to the Freehold and used names originating from the destroyed empire; these houses include Houses Baratheon, Qoherys, and Celtigar.
The first mention of High Valyrian came after the discovery of dragons. With the Old Empire of this dominating most of Essos, they tried defeating the rebellion Valyrians but could not withstand the might of the dragons. After the Ghiscari Empire fell, High Valyrian became the predominant language on the continent. However, the Fourteen Fire erupted, and the empire died.
After the fall of the Valyrian Freehold, the influence of the High Valyrian on the world waned. As High Valyrian records got destroyed in the catastrophe, the rules of the language faded into obscurity in Essos. However, the Free Cities under the empire continued using the language and drifted from the original tongue. Though most of it got lost in Essos, some records remained in Dragonstone’s library; this gave the Targaryens enough material to learn the language as it got spoken.
When Alysane Targaryen was still a toddler, she learned to read High Valyrian. She shared a passion for the language with her husband, King Jaehaerys I Targaryen. Some people like Raccallio Ryndoon spoke a dozen dialects of the Valyrian tongue, and Prince Viserys Targaryen’s wife Larra Rogare was fluent in the Valyrian tongue and the languages of the Free Cities. It became customary for children of nobles in Westeros to learn the language of the Valyrian Empire. However, with time the custom faded, as did the language.
High Valyrian has a writing and speaking system. It got written on scrolls instead of books and involved using glyphs. The hieroglyphic characters and symbols were used for describing objects and phrases and for magical purposes. Because of its use of glyphs, the language appeared primitive with no definitive structure. However, it is unknown if High Valyrian was truly primitive because most of it got lost to the Doom.
There are some popular Valyrian phrases still used in the known world. They are:
- Valar Morghulis: This gets translated as ‘All Men Must Die.’
- Valar Dohaeris: This is the counter phrase of Vala Morghulis and means ‘All Men Must Serve.’
- Maegi: It means ‘Wise.’
- Obsidian: Also called Dragonglass in the Common Tongue, it translates to ‘Frozen Fire.’
- Dracarys: It translates to the word ‘Dragonfire.’
High Valyrian has a beautiful naming convention relying on the alphabet a and e coming successively. House Targaryen names include Aegon, Aemon, Aenys, Baelon, Baelor, Daella, Daemon, Daenerys, Jaehaerys, Maegor, Visenya, and Viserys. Other houses that trace their roots to Valyria also give names in the language. In Essos, all the Free Cities, except Braavos, give High Valyrian names as they were once colonies of the fallen empire.
Bastard Valyrian, also called Low Valyrian, is an augmented version of High Valyrian. It got spoken throughout Essos in the Free and Slaver Cities.
In all nine Free Cities of Essos, Bastard Valyrian is a popular language. However, each Free City has its separate dialect with distinct vocabulary. Like the Freehold, the Nine Free Cities of Essos use glyphs in writing Valyrian, and when they speak the language, its sounds like a liquid tongue.
After conquering the Old Empire of Ghis, the Slaver Cities of Essos adopted separate versions of High Valyrian. Astapori Valyrian inculcated a characteristic growl from the fallen Ghiscari Empire. The Yunkai’i Valyrian is close to Astapor’s version but different from Meereenese Valyrian. Some slavers also speak a mongrel language that is a combination of Old Ghiscary and High Valyrian.
Relevance in A Song of Ice and Fire
In A Song of Ice and Fire novels, many characters are familiar with High Valyrian. Tyrion Lannister learned to read the language while a boy, while Quentyn Martell could read and write but not speak the tongue. The R’hllor priestess and priest Melisandre and Moqorro prayed and sang in High Valyrian. Daenerys Targaryen and her maid Missandie are also fluent.
Relevance in Adaptations
In HBO’s Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, High Valyrian was a crucial part of the Targaryen culture. The fictional language for the tv show Game of Thrones got created by David Peterson, and a High Valyrian course got featured on Duolingo, like Dothraki, for Game of Thrones fans who wanted to learn the language. Throughout the series, High Valyrian language got used by Daenerys to control her dragons. The phrases used by the Faceless Men were also from High Valyrian. Some statements used in the series include:
- Bantis zōbrie issa se ossȳngnoti lēdys: The night is dark and full of terrors.
- Daoruni gīmī, Ionos Sōnaro: You know nothing, Jon Snow.
- Riña dōre brōzi ēza: A girl has no name.
- Zaldrīzes buzdari iksos daor: A dragon is not a slave.
In HBO Max’s prequel series of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon, High Valyrian got used extensively. Because the series occurs in a time when there were many dragons, the Targaryens used it for control and conversations. Princess Rhaenyra and her uncle used the language in their discussions.
High Valyrian: The Language of the Forgotten Empire
Even after its destruction, the Valyrian Freehold left a mark on humanity with its language. The prevalence of High Valyrian after the Doom of Valyria showed that it is hard to forget the influence of the past on the present.
Did High Valyrian go extinct?
Though the Doom destroyed the Valyrian Freehold, House Targaryen and Velaryon remained. They spoke High Valyrian; this kept the language alive up to the time of Daenerys Targaryen.
Is High Valyrian a magical language?
Yes. The Valyrian used their language in many magical activities. In ‘A Dance with Dragons,’ Dragonbinder, a legendary weapon that could get used in controlling dragons, had inscriptions in High Valyrian.
Is High Valyrian real?
Like the Dothraki Language, High Valyrian is a fictional tongue spoken by the Valyrians of Essos. It got used throughout the continent during the reign of the Valyrian Empire, and after it fell, the language faded into obsolescence.
Why is Bastard Valyrian so popular?
Bastard Valyrian grew in popularity after the Doom of Valyria. Because each city of Essos had its distinct version, it got propagated easily to become the primary Valyrian tongue on the continent.