English is not enough, and constructed languages can help us understand our own and others’ experiences without judgement.
What if there was a way to express how anxiety and trauma felt? A way to know that we are not alone in those feelings? I mean, words can do that, can they not? There is obviously a word in English to express the experience of wanting something but being resigned to inaction. What was that word again? Oh right, there is not a word for that. Most of the words associated with mental health, particularly with anxiety and trauma, either do not exist or are heavily connoted with stigma.
Shaniya Anand, fourth year Linguistic Anthropology major and English minor, has created Mar’osha, a conlang that is meant to help people that suffer from anxiety and trauma communicate and validate their own feelings.
Often, people are burdened by society to understand and communicate their own traumatic experiences and feelings, without the recognition that this is an extremely difficult concept, made particularly harder if the limited words one can use are full of negativity and stigma.
What if a person is trying to disclose a particular feeling or experience, and their first language is not English or they cannot find a word? Feelings of frustration arise, because so much of dealing with trauma and mental health issues is about being validated by society. This can only happen through communication, and yet, we are not given the tools for it.
I met Shaniya at the Undergraduate Research Symposium Awards. In there, alongside her supervisors, Dr. Christine Schreyer from the Linguistic Anthropology department and Mr. Dennis Jasper from the school of Nursing, she conducted a survey looking at the practical uses of this new language she had created over two years ago.
Shaniya has had experiences with anxiety and she felt there was no way of communicating how she felt. Through and examination of her own feelings and with the motivation of expressing herself and helping other express, she brought to life Mar’osha. Since the creation of this language, she has been guest speaking in classes and doing workshops with the IPS on how constructed languages can help deal with anxiety. This is a fairly new field Shaniya is jumping into but is such an important one, so I wanted to interview her and get to know all about this new way of constructing the world.
In your opinion, what is the biggest problem with the English language? How do we solve it?
“English language does not have the vocabulary necessary to talk about experiences of trauma and anxiety. Not effectively, not without having preconceived notions attached to those words. Words that were meant to use in healing capacity have been co-opted and have negative feelings attached to them. Words like ‘triggered.’ I read a whole study about how that’s being used in non-clinical settings because it is so heavily connoted with negative conceptions.
“A lot of English words are heavily stigmatized and it is hard to talk about these feelings when there is no vocabulary associated to it, and people constantly invalidate their own experiences because of it.”
What is a conlang? What is Mar’osha?
“A conlang is a constructed language created by individuals to fulfil a specific design purpose and it is often used in pop culture. Klingon and Dothraki are examples of popular conlangs.
“Mar’osha is a conlang created by me with the intention of filling in a particular gap in language. It is meant to communicate feelings of trauma and anxiety, which is something relevant to the experiences of so many individuals and is something very difficult to talk about freely. By providing a framework that people living with trauma and anxiety can use to better communicate their experiences, Mar’osha could be used as an additional and accessible, self-healing, therapeutic, and community building resource for potential speakers because it facilitates the recognition, normalization, and validation of the experience of the speakers. It is also meant to provide agency to and empower speakers.”
So, is the language supposed to be used in conjunction with English or is it its own language?
“It can be either. I personally have been using Mar’osha in conjunction with English.
“Mar’osha is an agglutinative language, which means different parts can be tacked onto a word to create a different meaning. There is a word for body-fear (ata'aromuo), so if you attach the word ‘music’ to that, it becomes a whole new word that describes, ‘this music... made me experience feelings of dread or fear so strong that it caused a physical reaction.’
“When I talked to one of my supervisors, Mr. Jasper, he was very interested to see how the language could be used in therapeutic contexts by providing words that therapists could give their patients and then communicating through that instead of trying to find the right vocabulary.
It really just depends on whatever suits the person the best. It can be used as a stand-alone or it can be in conjunction with English. Right now, I am still working on adding to the Mar’osha vocabulary.”
When and how did this project get started?
“I started this project in Anthropology 170, Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. One of the assignments was to create a part of a conlang. A lot of people I saw created theirs based on shopping and things like that, but I kind of took it in a different direction. I went with trying to communicate feelings of anxiety and trauma, because that’s what was relevant to my own experience.
“During that process, I found that creating Mar’osha, at that time named Gteo, really helped me deal with my own anxiety and help me to better communicate my feelings and needs. This validated me and also helped me get into a better headspace. So, that’s where it started. I also fell in love with conlanging!
“After that, I was like, well, I wanna do more with this language so I actually emailed Dr. Schreyer. I had never met her before, never taken any classes with her, but I emailed her and asked her if there was anything more I could do with this language as I was really interested in taking it further and developing it. And she said, yeah come up to me, and so I went up and met her.
“Since then I’ve been in classes with her and working more and more on Mar’osha. I’ve guest spoken and hosted a workshop and even applied for the Undergraduate Research Award so I could put my language out to the broader public and see whether it had practical uses in the way I hypothesised it could.
“I will also be attending and presenting at the AAAs (the American Anthropological Association Conference) this November, so Mar’osha has definitely come a long way!”
How did you create the language?
“This was two years ago, so I can’t quite remember all of it. I started with the concepts of the words, what I wanted to express. An example is not-we (kvilé). I use it in a context when, for example, there is a racist family member or friend who is talking about something and laughing about it, and... I do not agree with that, I am not a part of that. So, I am separate from the group I’m viewed as being a part of, kvilé.
“I mainly tried to talk a lot about the feelings I’ve had in my life and then I put them down. Then it was a process of putting together sounds and assigning meaning to them, seeing how they fit together. I went through the international phonetic alphabet and I just listened to and practiced making the sounds.”
What, for you, is the most important term in Marosha?
“I don’t personally have a term that is the most important for me because they are all my words, they are all things I have felt and experienced. I feel like Mar’osha itself is a crucial word, however, because it means ‘same experience.’ So, things like that that focus not only on the negatives, because so much of these experiences is inherently negative and difficult to talk about. Words that focus on the solidarity, love, and understanding people share, those kinds of terminologies are generally my favorite.
“Participants in my URA study really liked words related to safety. They liked words that talk about expected or unexpected safety or unsafety. They also specifically liked safe-eyes (bai'thé), which is used to describe someone you do not know well who seems safe or trustworthy based on first impressions or gut instinct, and Mikamuo, which means alone and glad of it.
What message do you want to send out there?
“People are not alone in these feelings. It is so important to validate these feelings and acknowledge they exist and recognize that they really impact people. We have to work together to destigmatize mental health. This is pretty much why I created Mar’osha.”
Shaniya has a website where she outlines her incredible journey, the future of Mar’osha, and the Mar’osha glossary. As she continues to write articles, give workshops, and raise awareness of mental health stigmatization, remember the phrase, Vile Bimo Le’shaha, meaning, we share the same understanding.