This scene of Game of Thrones is about Khal Drogo's speech. While watching this video, I feel a very deep connection to the character as a leader, and I'm impressed by him, ready to rise and obey him.

Well, that's just me. Yet when I saw more videos of the Dothraki language, I found out that a lot of people are actually impressed by how glorious and awesome this language is.

I thought maybe there are some objective rules based on cognitive knowledge of our brain and language, that makes a language impress us more than other language. Can it be true? Are there objective facts and sounds that make people perceive a language as awesome and glorious?

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    "Are there objective facts and sounds that make a language sound awesome and glorious?" No. This question can in no way be answered seriously, which is why I vote to close it. – lemontree Sep 17 '16 at 12:19
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    I don't get how you think I would be on the side of prescriptive "linguistics" (quotes because I don't see how it could be called linguistics at all) when I emphasize objectivity. I am all in favour of "finding out new things", as you say, but wording a question with "awesome and glorious" just calls for completely unobjective and scientifically unmotivated opinions (opinions is already a problem, because we want answers). If you can reword your question accordingly, feel free to do so and I'll re-think my close-vote, but as it is now, I see no way for it to attract reasonable answers. – lemontree Sep 17 '16 at 13:27
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    @lemontree "are there objectively measurable features which make humans perceive a language, by itself, as awe-inspiring and worth of renown" is a scientific question, involving the interface between cognitive linguistics and sociolinguistics. It's a different question than "is this language awesome", which would be subjective. – melissa_boiko Sep 17 '16 at 13:50
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    @leoboiko But that was not the question - the question was "What makes a language awesome and glorious", a lurid wording that I find unsuited for a serious discussion. Even in the last sentence that you referred to, it is not "that humans perceive as ...", but "that make a language...", so I really do think the question would have to be re-phrased to make it no longer "primarily opinion-based". – lemontree Sep 17 '16 at 19:21
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    'Awe-inspiring' and 'worthy of renown', like beauty, are very subjective notions, dependent on personal preference, cultural norms, and random whims. Almost by definition then, no, there are likely very few objectively measurable features. Most likely the common culture and popularity of the show in its entirety are what convince you the made-up language is 'glorious'. For al the people in the world that think any of the features of that show are great, there are likely many who despise it to a similar degree or, worse, may not even care. – Mitch Sep 19 '16 at 13:38

There might be a fraction of an answerable question here, which I will set forth, but no realistic prospects for answering it. The question would be "What aspects of pronunciation in an unfamiliar language are most strongly associated by listeners with the evaluation 'awesome and glorious'?" One part of the research would involve constructing conlang samples with various phonetic properties (I'm also assuming, unreasonably, a huge supply of trained bodies to actually produce the speech; or, next-gen Klatt synthesis that doesn't sound like Dennis Klatt). The second part is framing the question: you need at least two choices (e.g. "awesome" and "whimpy", or whatever). Don't think that the choice "awesome" actually means that people think it's awesome, it's just the only alternative to "whimpy".

Actually framing the question is an insurmountable impossibility, in its interaction with the final issue in framing the question: identifying the population. Awesome according to whose standards? Without any qualifications, you'd need to sample young American boys, old American women, old Norwegian musicians, middle-aged Egyptian (Arab) engineers, and so on. I'm betting that the strongest determinant of the "awesomeness" judgement is the native language of the subject. The second strongest determinant would be personal ideological matters that you simply would not code for in the demography survey (how many people out there think Elvish is "awesome"? Anybody?). The population is huge and a valid sample is simply impossible. But wait: what is the Mongolian word for "awesome", and what is the Hmong word for "awesome". You can't ask a Mongolian monolingual speaker if Dothraki is "awesome" – he's just say "Юу мэдмээр байна. Яагаад би энд байгаа вэ?" or something like that. Also, in California speak, "awesome" means "uh-huh", unlike in my dialect where it means "wonderous, awe-inspiring". The premise that words like "awesome" identify an objective emotional reality is just so false.

That's why the question cannot be answered. If you want to narrow down the population to e.g. "undergrads taking a psychology survey class in the UCal system between 2016 and 2020", you might generate some numbers.

  • I truly thank you for spending the time to answer and clarifications you made. I'm reading linguistics as a personal hobby, and I'm an English teacher (foreign language) and also I'm a developer highly engaged in NLP stuff. Yet I can't say that I'm a linguist. What I saw, as a pattern, was very shocking. Just go see YouTube videos of those moments of Dothraki, and you will see what I mean. Maybe we can argue that other visual productions accompanied by well-crafted music is what makes those scenes awe-inspiring. – Saeed Neamati Sep 18 '16 at 5:05
  • But I believe in the universals. For example, in any language, raise your voice and people think that you're getting mad. That's not subjective. From the point of evolutionary psychology, we need to be aware about loud sounds, because they might represent threats that can jeopardize our survival. That's why I thought maybe there are patterns, like heavy usage of special place of articulation that triggers our brains in a special way to secrete some neurotransmitters which make us feel different. – Saeed Neamati Sep 18 '16 at 5:08
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    "Awesome" is a hopeless adjective; maybe something more absolute like "fear-inspiring" could be tested. In the Dothraki case, it's the actor and not the language. Compare Emilia Clarke when she speaks the language. – user6726 Sep 18 '16 at 5:15

The answer is "most likely not". Whatever effect the sounds may have on people's perception (if any; read on "sound symbolism" for more info) seems to be a subtle effect, and easily overridden by cultural stereotypes. For example, the "guttural R" sound [R] is considered by many to be aggressive and barbaric in German (or Tolkien's Black Speech), but exactly the same sound is often considered beautiful and romantic in French (as in l'amour). The same kind of agglutination (gluing together of words) which lead some to consider German "logical", an "engineer's language", was once considered by many to be a telltale sign of "primitive minds" in tribal languages.

Very likely, people find the Dothraki language awesome and glorious because they find the Dothraki awesome and glorious. Khal Drogo's speech and Momoa's delivery (cof and body cof) would give me the chills in any language.

There's one sense that Dothraki may be, I think, said to be "awesome" in a concrete way: Dothraki's not a natural language like English, developed collectively through time, but a consciously created constructed language. As such, its construction can be evaluated and criticized as a work of art. And in this sense Dothraki is certainly impressive: from the phonology (the set of sounds and how they combine and change) to the morphology (the word-pieces and how they combine and change) to the lexicon (the database of words) and syntax (how they fit together) and pragmatics (how the culture makes use of it), everything at every level is carefully designed and fit together convincingly and life-like, all without ever losing sight of George Martin's aesthetic purpose in the narrative. In this artistic, subjective sense, David J Peterson may be said to be an awesome languagemaker, and Dothraki (and High Valyrian etc.) awesome fictional languages.

  • from the phonology (the set of sounds and how they combine and change) to the morphology (the word-pieces and how they combine and change) to the lexicon (the database of words) and syntax (how they fit together) and pragmatics (how the culture makes use of it) Amazing simplification of technical terms. I wish I could vote more. – Saeed Neamati Sep 18 '16 at 5:12

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