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Why the Language I Made at 8 Is an Important Aspect of My Identity

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

An aspect of my identity that some people might consider unconventional is the language I invented when I was a little girl. I was 8 and antsy, and none of my father’s environmental law books had any pictures in them. I sat impatiently, with my legs sprawled across the staircase, chin in palm, and my fingers resting warmly against my cheeks, waiting for my father, who was in one of his meetings that went on forever. I had only gone along with him at work because he had promised to buy me ice cream later that day. But I should have known better. This had happened before.

It was hard to sit still and I could hear my internal clock tick louder and louder with each passing minute. I did every possible thing to fill the time, and that’s when it struck me — I was going to invent a language.

I grew up in the city, far away from my tribal county Maryland which is in the southeastern region of Liberia. While both my parents could speak the language of their tribe, my siblings and I never had the privilege of speaking in our native tongue. For a long time, I felt like a fraud for not being able to speak Grebo and I envied the connection I saw people had whenever they spoke their language. I longed to feel that connection with someone. I rushed up the stairs and ran to tell my older sister who was also waiting for my dad in an empty office area on the first floor. I spoke so fast that my words scrambled like sizzling eggs in a frying pan. I took a deep breath and explained my mind-boggling idea to her, but she looked back at me quizzically. I could tell by the glint in her eye that she was holding back her laughter. My sister was not one to hold back on what she thought, and she finally exclaimed with laughter at what I had thought was a brilliant idea. She told me that it was a dumb idea and that I should find something better to do with my time.

I was so disappointed by her reaction. I made up my mind then that I was going to make up the language anyway and only teach it to my little brother to prove a point to my sister. I was determined more than ever — an 8-year-old on a mission to change the world. Or so I thought. 

The next day was Saturday. I rode my bike to the nearby store and bought a mini black and white composition notebook. I raced back home and began my journey to make what is now Konelish, my language. The idea was quite simple. I made up a sound for each letter of the alphabet and spelled out the words. For example, y is “wayee,”e is “ii,” and s is “si.” Thus “yes” in Konelish is “wayee-ii-si”. It was difficult in the beginning but eventually, the words began to flow more naturally and I no longer had to think about the spellings of words anymore. When I finally got it down I began the process of torturing my little brother to learn it. He was amazingly receptive to the idea of learning Konelish and he would sit for hours trying to get the alphabet down. I was adamant; he was going to learn it and that was final.

Now, I am no longer 8, but I am still as stubborn and headstrong. Konelish has been sewn into the fabric of my identity and it feels very much a part of me as any other language or culture would. My brother and I still speak it and it represents the special bond between us. It’s ours. A language we both share that no one else in the world does. It rolls off my tongue just as easily as English does and it has integrated into my everyday vernacular. I no longer call my parents mom and dad, instead, I call them “mush-ee” and “du-ee” and it feels more special. Konelish represents much more than a language to me, and instead, it sheds light on so many aspects of my identity. It portrays my creativity, love of language, and culture, as well as my persistence. 

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Konah Brownell

U Mass Amherst '23

Konah is a Political Science and Journalism major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She cares deeply about issues relating to race, gender, immigration, education, and the environment. Outside of Her Campus, Konah enjoys writing poetry and runs a poetry account on Instagram @sunflower.seed.s_