Language Panel Aims to Open Students’ Minds to New Culture

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Published October 23, 2019
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The Montclarion
(Left to right) Dr. Maisa Taha, Bryan Checo, Dr. Teresa Fiore, and Zoe Aguiar participated in the panel. Ben Caplan | The Montclarion Photo credit: Ben Caplan

Students and members of the Montclair State University community gathered at Alexander Kasser Theater to attend a panel called “Celebrating Language Across Cultures.”

The panel on Oct. 16 was held in anticipation of the Peak Performances debut, “Last Whispers: Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree,” by Lena Herzog.

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Montclair State panel, “Celebrating Languages Across Culture” included faculty and students.
Ben Caplan | The Montclarion Photo credit: Ben Caplan

The event featured Montclair State faculty such as: Dr. Daniel Mengara, professor of French, Dr. Teresa Fiore, professor of Italian, Dr. Maisa Taha, professor of linguistics and cultural anthropology and Dr. Lois Oppenheim, Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature, as the moderator.

Montclair State undergraduate students were also part of this panel. Zoe Aguiar, a junior exercise science major and Japanese minor, Bryan Checo, a junior history major and Italian minor and Andy Sweeney, a junior German major, were selected by Oppenheim to inform the public discourse.

The panel was one hour long and was followed by a screening of the oratorio film, which runs for 48 minutes. The film ran until Oct. 20 at the Alexander Kasser Theatre.

Lena Herzog, trained in linguistics and philosophy, is a multimedia artist whose work has been exhibited around the world. “Last Whispers,” an immersive cinematic experience dedicated to vanishing languages, is the result of Herzog’s ongoing interest in indigenous dialects, which are disappearing at an astonishing rate. By 2050, half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken around the world will fall silent, according to peakperfs.org.

Jedediah Wheeler, Executive Director of Montclair State’s Arts and Cultural Programming at Alexander Kasser Theatre, began the event by informing attendees that one language, on average, is lost every two weeks.

Wheeler stressed the cultural loss of losing a language.

“Language is the creative element of each one of us,” Wheeler said.

Oppenheim initiated the discussion by inviting panel members to consider Wheeler’s statement, “Language is culture, verbal or nonverbal.”

“Language is felt, it is lived on a daily basis,” Mengara said. “Language and culture are an organic relationship that cannot be separated.”

Jessie Gohde, a freshman sociology major, attended the panel as a requirement for her writing class where they are learning about language justice.

“I liked how they had real people talking and they didn’t know the questions beforehand,” Gohde said. “I also like the idea of how other languages are based off [of] other languages, so languages really don’t die.”

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Dr. Lois Oppenheim (on the left), Chair of the Modern Languages and Literature at Montclair State moderated the panel. To the right of Dr. Oppenheim are Dr. Daniel Mengara, Professor of French, and student panelist Andy Sweeney.
Ben Caplan | The Montclarion Photo credit: Ben Caplan

Oppenheim invited her fellow panel members to further consider political correctness as it pertains to language use, translation and the student panel members’ insight into their own desires for pursuing the acquisition of foreign languages and cultural engagements.

Student panel member Aguiar, emphasized the opportunities that come out of learning a language apart from one’s own.

“Language is a great way to start connecting with people around you in a deeper level,” Aguiar said. “I have set a goal for myself to learn five languages.”

Krisha Simon, a senior linguistic major, admires Oppenheim, Simon’s advisor, and wanted to see what the panel was about.

“It’s all about language, and in order for us to get anything done in any field we all have to communicate in one way or another,” Simon said. “This panel was definitely relevant.”

The surprise and interest of the panel for Simon kept her engaged.

“I wish it could have been longer because it’s quite interesting with what I’m hearing,” Simon said.

Eliza Lopez, a junior communication and media arts major, attended the panel as a requirement for her creative thinking class and did not know what to expect.

“I thought it was really interesting, especially when they were talking about the importance of learning different languages,” Lopez said.

Lopez was inspired by Aguiar’s goal to learn five languages.

“I was thinking about my own life, I struggle with learning Spanish, but my parents are Spanish,” Lopez said. “I think maybe I should learn [Spanish] because of how much I struggle talking with my grandma and other people in my life.”

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