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April 22, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Three Students Take First at Expo for Creating New Language

Linguistics undergraduates Francesca Cappetta, Carlye Stevens and Joshua Kitsos brought home a blue ribbon from the 2019 Student Research and Creative Activity Expo.

Linguistics undergraduates Francesca Cappetta, Carlye Stevens and Joshua Kitsos won first place in Arts and Humanities 2 for their construction of a new language called “Suʒ.niŋ.u.ʃə.” Josh Kitsos (not pictured) also participated in the project.

Several Modern Languages students presented their research and projects at Ohio University’s Student Research and Creative Activity Expo on April 11.

Carlye Stevens, a Spanish and Linguistics major, Francesca Cappetta, a German and Linguistics major, and Josh Kitsos, a Linguistics major and Spanish minor, won first prize in Arts and Humanities 2 for their construction of a new language called “Suʒ.niŋ.u.ʃə.”

They constructed a sociocultural environment conducive to language emergence, imagined a theoretically sound language “complete with three dialect variants,” and trained an actor to use it in a filmed scene.

The project came to light in a “Language Construction” course taught by Dr. Michelle O’Malley, Assistant Professor of Linguistics. The coursework focused on the art of language construction, or creation of a “Conlang.” For the uninitiated, a conlang is a consciously constructed, rather than a naturally-developed language.

Elvish, Dothraki, and Esperanto are all examples of constructed languages where linguists apply their knowledge of how natural languages emerge, develop and change over time. These “conlangs” are often constructed for movies and TV shows to lend authenticity to their fictional universes. For the Language Construction course, students were required to take on the additional task of dialect coach when they composed a theatrical scene using their newly constructed sociocultural environments and languages. They set the scene, coached their actors, and filmed the piece for the show at the expo.

Stevens says that the project was “the culmination of a semester’s worth of work … plus four years of studying linguistics.” To prepare, students in O’Malley’s course read The Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson, who created the Game of Thrones language “Dothraki.” Within the group’s specific presentation, the students created a society with a sociocultural background and then created a language by choosing a specific sound system and set of grammar rules. They also formed three dialectal variants of the language. To finish the project, they trained an actor how to speak their language and filmed them speaking a script (the monologue from the movie “Soul Surfer”) that had been translated into the language.

“I’m pretty sure we were all just shocked,” says Stevens. “When we initially decided to be judged, it wasn’t for us to try to win. The reason we wanted to be judged was to get the experience of presenting in an official and professional setting. When we actually won, we were all beyond excited!”

Other language contributions to the expo included: “Nakulus” created by Zach Delin, “Poŋpoŋosh” created by Kaya Chanthavong, Melody Diaz and Anya Ferguson, and “Sagatha” created by Tim Stevens.

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