Westminster begins 2023 Hancock Symposium

Photo courtesy Westminster College Jessie Sams (left) and David Peterson (right) stand on Westminster College's campus. They opened the 2023 Hancock Symposium with their presentation "The Value of Language." Hancock Symposium presentations will continue for students on Wednesday.

Westminster College kicked off the 2023 Hancock Symposium Tuesday, with this year's theme being "The Language of Life."

The Hancock Symposium is hosted by the college each fall semester. It provides a wide array of sessions and lectures about various topics over two days.

No classes are held at Westminster over these two days so students can attend the sessions.

The 2022 theme was "The Changing Nature of Work and Play."

The opening presentation of this year's Hancock Symposium was "The Value of Language" hosted by David Peterson and Jessie Sams.

Peterson is a language creator and author best known for creating fictional languages for "Game of Thrones." Sams is also a language creator who has made languages for "Elemental" and "Shadow and Bone."

In their presentation, they spoke about the role of language in fiction. Sams said that having the "common tongue" of a story be English is a good option, especially for written media.

"It's an easy way out option for visual media, and this is really because producers still think American audiences won't read subtitles," Sams said.

One mistake in fictional languages they spoke about was using gibberish. Peterson said that best, gibberish can be mildly entertaining while it can be embarrassing at worst.

"It's distracting, and you don't want people thinking about what you're showing them. You want them to be engaged in what you're showing them or reading," Peterson said.

Peterson said "Game of Thrones" producers originally planned on using gibberish for one of the fictional languages, and it was used in auditions.

Peterson and Sams' entire presentation can be viewed on Westminster's YouTube channel.

Three other blocks of sessions were held on Tuesday after the opening presentation. Other speakers throughout the day spoke about nonverbal language, communication between plants, language through martial arts and the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Sessions begin at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Topics throughout the day include the influence of music, the language of law, American Sign Language and learning foreign languages.

The 2023 Hancock Symposium will conclude at 5 p.m. with a closing performance from George Mahn III, who will perform acoustic music. He graduated from Westminster in 1992.

Mahn will also speak earlier in the day at a presentation.