University of Southern California

Kaltxì from Marshall . . . and Pandora
December 18, 2009 • by Paul Frommer

Dear Friends of Marshall:

You have just been greeted in Na'vi, the language I created for James Cameron's film "Avatar," which opened in theatres across America today. It might seem odd that a Professor at USC's Marshall School of Business would create a language spoken by an alien race in a science fiction film. But I would respond: Not at all. Or, in Na'vi - kaw'it.

I believe one of Marshall's core strengths is that we urge our students to have broad interests. We encourage our undergraduates to have minors, to take East Asian Studies, Music, History -- we're not turning out narrow business majors. We want our students to be broadly educated. We feel wide-ranging interests make for more successful business careers and more satisfied human beings.

I'm a case in point. In college, I majored in mathematics, then taught math for the Peace Corps in Malaysia. Working in the Malaysian language, I became fascinated with linguistics and eventually earned a doctorate in that subject at USC. But rather than pursue an academic career at that time, I got involved in the corporate world and worked in private business for a decade. In the mid-'90s, I started teaching Management Communication at USC Marshall -- one of the few business schools to require communication classes. That's of a piece with our global outlook: How can you successfully conduct business in a globalized world if you haven't learned to craft effective messages for diverse audiences?

When I found out James Cameron was looking for someone to create an alien language, I jumped at the chance. And here at the intersection of Hollywood and Marshall, it's been quite a ride. Not only did I exercise my linguistic muscles figuring out how aliens on the moon Pandora might speak, but I also gained experience communicating with film industry people that I was able to bring to my classroom.

At USC Marshall, we journey every day. Some days it's just across campus to a lecture; other days it's to foreign countries to explore their business environment; and some days it's even to another planet. Each journey expands the horizons of our students. I hope you'll join me in supporting USC Marshall as we fearlessly explore the final frontiers of our imaginations.


Paul Frommer