April 14, 2020 at 6:10 pm

Language Matters Finds Way to Keep Message Board Going

Penuela Garcia writes, "Cuidate por favor!" in Spanish.

Penuela Garcia: Cuidate por favor!

When COVID 19 hit, it seemed that one initiative of the Language Matters project would also have to stop—the whiteboard in the third floor corridor of Gordy Hall where students used markers to scribe their contributions to a weekly prompt in various languages.

Language Matters seeks to raise awareness of the power of language across Ohio University’s multilingual campus. It was begun by Dr. Michelle O’Malley, Assistant Professor of Instruction in Linguistics, and is managed by graduate student Kaly Thayer.

Dania Al-Ashhab writes "stay home" in Arabic.

Dania Al-Ashhab writes “stay home” in Arabic.

“We host weekly or bi-weekly prompts to allow folks to share the different ways their language says different things,” Thayer says. So one week they might be asked to write how they would say “Good Luck” in their own language or “Have a nice day.”

Each week the whiteboard became full of fascinating comparative linguistic data from languages such as Arabic, French, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Swahili, Russian, and so on. The whiteboard also functioned as a way to bring the Gordy community together in a common activity and as a symbol of how language unites people despite differences in their mother tongues.

Masato Takenokoshi writes "stay well" in Japanese.

Masato Takenokoshi writes “stay well” in Japanese.

When the university announced that all classes after the spring break would go online, it looked as though the Language Matters project would languish. But Thayer was determined to keep it going.

“Since we no longer share a physical space,” Thayer explained,  “I thought we could share a digital one, and I asked my cohort and their friends if they’d be willing to send in an image with how their language wishes someone good health or give advice on what to do during this time. I was happy with the response and put together a collage so the images would more closely resemble the board we had in Gordy!”

See the whole collage on the Linguistics  Facebook page.

Kaly Thayer writes, "Take care of Yourself!" in English.

Kaly Thayer: Take care of Yourself!

Language Matters is a part of The Ohio Language & Culture Lab, created and directed by O’Malley. It comprises both undergraduate and graduate student members from various disciplines across the university with a common interest in sociolinguistic study. The lab supports the continued study and documentation of regional language variation (Ohio Voices Project), as well as, efforts to connect with the larger community of users through collaborative data-gathering efforts (Ohio Language Use Survey) and information sharing (podcast series in development).

The virtual Language Matters board will continue. Thayer is hoping to ask another question in a week or so to keep people sharing.

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