Students in the Honors College of the Appalachian State University showed great creativity in inventing a new language and a society that is related to it. The program was part of an honors seminar for juniors at The Honors College of the state university. The course, called “Inventing Language(s) was one of the seven that the college offered in the fall. Students who attended the course were taught about global communities, language structures and grammar.
The course focus was on constructed languages and the students explored what constitutes a language and what the steps are in creating a new language. Linguist and Associate Professor in the Department of English, Donna Lillian, explained that one of the goals of the course was to aid students in understanding language structure deep enough for them not only to discuss it but also to create a new language.
Surarnatat, which translates to “the traveling people talk” was the name given to the language that the students who took the course invented. Each of the 17 participants in the special class had a different major, which contributed to the course’s success, according to Associate Professor Lillian. Their academic diversity brought into the class their different perspectives. Their personal ideals were reflected in the work they did. They developed a society, complete with history, culture, music, legends and location. The tree community they developed was named “rulwatf.” The students went for a community that was self-sufficient in food and energy production. Their invented language made it easy for them to express positive comments.
Everything that the students worked for were shown during the end-of-term presentation. A student drew their tree community. One student read the tree community’s history, which he wrote in surarnatat. Another student composed and sang a “song of the elders” in surarnatat. Stories from the Aesop’s Fables were translated into surarnatat and read during the presentation. A children’s book was written and illustrated by another student.
The experiences the students had in the special class were definitely positive. Jessica Rinker, who is majoring in elementary education, said she was drawn to the course due to her love for languages. Through classes and her overseas travels, she learned French, Spanish and Italian. She added that she now has a better comprehension of grammar that she could use when she finally becomes a teacher. Ryan Hellenbrand, another junior whose major is global studies and sustainable development, said the class was a natural extension of the German and language history course he took at the University of Bamberg (Germany) last spring.
The program was a very deep and transformative enterprise, according to Professor Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand, who is the director of the global studies program of the Appalachian State University. She said that it was great that they were able to make the students realize that art, music, architecture, history and culture as well as people are all connected via language and that creating a new language meant creating a new group of people.