Though some students spend their undergraduate years struggling to learn how to conjugate Spanish verbs in order to fulfill their foreign language requirements, many may not understand the way language has shaped the world.
This year’s LSA theme semester — Language: The Human Quintessence — attempts to answer the many questions students have about language and emphasize its importance to humanity. The Department of Linguistics is co-sponsoring the theme semester, along with 13 other departments, including American Culture, Classical Studies and Psychology. The program provides students with the opportunity to learn about language across a variety of disciplines.
At the start of each academic year, departments within LSA are invited to submit topics to serve as the “intellectual centerpiece” for a semester, according to Linguistics Prof. Marlyse Baptista, a co-director of this year’s theme semester. Final topics for theme semesters are chosen by the LSA Dean’s office and past topics have included Water, The Universe and What makes life worth living?
Barbra Meek, another co-director of the theme semester and associate professor of anthropology and linguistics, wrote in an e-mail interview that language was chosen for this semester because of its vast importance to humans.
“Language is the ultimate meaning-making system, reproducing traditional beliefs as well as articulating novel thoughts and ideas,” Meek wrote.
Theme semester programming includes a number of courses as well as events focused on the nature of language in society such as lectures, films, museum exhibits and workshops.
“The course offerings enable students to investigate multiple facets of language, including biological, social, cultural, anthropological, communicative and literary,” Baptista wrote. “In short, LSA theme semester courses offer a unique platform for interdisciplinary collaborations and exchanges on a single topic.”
Theme semesters Program Coordinator Jennifer Nguyen said one of the unique things about the theme semester is that it approaches language from a number of unique angles, including humor, education and endangerment.
Beyond the importance of language, the theme semester also strives to draw attention to languages that are disappearing, Meek said.
“One final reason for choosing language, then, is to raise awareness of endangered languages and the significance of their loss,” Meek wrote. “Lost grammars, lost histories and lost knowledge.”
In addition to language-related events and classes, physical changes are also being implemented around campus for the theme semester, including a mural developed by University students that was officially revealed in Palmer Commons on Wednesday.
The mural, along with Festifools, an annual puppet parade held in Ann Arbor, and the “Language of Mudra,” a dance performance that expresses language through hand gestures, are some of the more artistic expressions of language this semester, Nguyen said.