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Meredith’s Imaginary World Karland

Codes and Cipher’s were on Meredith’s mind in fourth grade. If you’re not sure what those are, think of Turing cracking the enigma code in the movie the Imitation Game, or when Sherlock Holmes breaks a cipher.

At the same time as she was cultivating her interest in codes, the 9-year-old Meredith had a distinct frustration with the inconsistent grammar of English, (Just think of how we don’t pronounce the “p” in psychiatry, muscle is different from muscular, etc…frustrating indeed!).

So, she took a leap and decided to build her own language. In doing so, she became part of a tradition of language inventors. J.R.R. Tolkien who invented a number of Elvish languages is probably the most known among these. David J. Peterson has more recently been in the media for inventing HBO’s Game of Thrones languages, Dothraki and Valyrian.

Inspired in part by the eyewitness series of books, she began to use her growing language to describe an imaginary civilization set on the island of Kar or Karland. As she continued to work on Kar over many years, it became increasingly complex and she created a unique culture of people with myths and everyday material goods. She also populated her world with animals, including all of the endangered animals on the “Endangered Species” stamps from 1996.

[A chief (top left) receives a gift or traded items. Drawing by Meredith Root-Bernstein. Photo by Marlo McKenzie.]

Meredith says that Karland was “a way for me to process all of the things I was reading about, or seeing on TV, or learning about in school, and put it together to make it more interesting for me. I’d pick out the bit that I liked, and expand on that, so it was a way of integrating everything I was learning about. For example, if I saw a nice exhibit in the museum about butterflies, I’d think, "oh, I’m going to draw the ones I like and say they live in Karland.”

As she grew older, she began to lose interest in Kar, something she attributes to its inconsistencies. At that time, she also began to work and study in ways much like her play in Kar. Today, she researches complex sociological systems within the realms of conservation and gives credit to her early worldplay as an incubation lab for her later work as a scientist. “I feel like i’m doing all of the same things that I did in Karland, but for a real socioecological system. I’m using all the same actual skills — using images, and making pictures, and writing long documents.”

[An example of Kar language. Drawing by Meredith Root-Bernstein. Photo by Marlo McKenzie.]

If you’d like to read an in-depth portrait of Meredith’s world, check out the book, Imaginary Worlds written by her Mother, Michele Root-Bernstein. If you’d like to learn more about Meredith’s scientific research go here. And, stay tuned for the film!

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