It must be the most unique internship ever.
Some Staples High School seniors spent the last month of the school year doing medical research at Yale. Some worked for hedge funds, on farms and as teacher assistants. One interned at “06880.”
Alex Mussomeli invented a new language.
In a school at which students have many passions — ice skating, robotics, gun safety, you name it — Alex’s love for linguistics stands out.
He took Italian through 4 Honors and an early college experience, and studied Japanese on his own. He was an avid member of both the Italian Club (helping fundraise for a school in Napoli) and the Linguistics Club (studying the science of language and culture).
The arcana of alphabets, grammar, syntax, phonemes, lexicology — things most of us never think about, let alone study — fascinate Alex.
So when it came time to design an internship, he decided to design a language.
But not just any language. This one would have its own letters. Its own tenses and sounds. Even its own history and culture.
Louisa D’Amore was eager to serve as his site supervisor. A Staples Italian teacher with a similarly strong interest in linguistics, she provided help when needed.
But for hours each day, Alex worked on his own.
“I had experience with foreign sounds, through Italian and Japanese. But I didn’t want to create a language that was a copy. I wanted it to feel foreign to me,” he explains.
So he examined others, like Albanian, Arabic, Greenlandic, Turkish, Uzbek, and polysynthetic Native American dialects.
He thought about how different one language can be from another. One example: An Amazonian language has words for “some” and “many,” but not specific numbers.
Then he began creating “Nekitsa.”
That’s the English transliteration, anyway. It has its own 29-letter alphabet, complete with a variety of sounds (similar to consonants and vowels), plus diacriticals.
The Nekitsa alphabet.
Nekitsa comes from the roots neki (“true”) and tsa (“speech”).
Interestingly, there are no adjectives. Instead of saying “silent person,” a Nekitsa speaker would says he has “the eyes of an owl.”
“When you learn a language, you put yourself in the shoes of other people,” Alex notes.
“When you create a language you do that too. But in this case, it’s the shoes of people who never existed.”
So Alex created a thousand-year history, along with letters and words.
“I imagined people speaking Nekitsa,” he explains. “A sophisticated society grew up along with the language.
The Nekitsa culture, Alex says, is based on “empathy and respect for others.”
Amazingly, Alex has cochlear implants, to help mitigate substantial hearing loss. That makes his work with languages — and all their diverse sounds, intonations and subtleties – even more impressive.
D’Amore was awed by Alex’s internship work. But he downplays it.
“It’s just like an artistic pursuit, where you want to create something unique.”
Alex will continue creating next fall at Wesleyan University. He hopes to design his own major, where he’ll explore ideas like meaning and perception, across different cultures.
But first there’s a family trip, to Tuscany and Stockholm.
Alex will speak fluently in Italy.
And he’ll probably learn Swedish before he leaves baggage claim.
(Since 2009, “06880” has told the stories of remarkable Staples graduates. Please click here, to help keep them coming. Thank you!)