Monday, November 10, 2008

Highlights from "The Linguists"

We had two successful get-togethers last month to see the award-winning documentary film, The Linguists. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did (I saw it twice)! Some interesting bits from the film:
  • The two "stars" of the film, professors David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, speak a combined 25 languages.
  • Sora, an Indian language with approximately 300,000 speakers, has an interesting number system, consisting of a combination of base-12 and base-20. Ninety-three is the linguists favorite number in Sora, expressed by saying four-twenty-twelve-one.
  • Kallawaya is the language of the medicine healers in the Andes, Bolivia. This language is not learned at infancy, but rather passed down from the elders to young men seeking to learn the tribal ways. With less than 100 speakers, this language has been able to survive because of the value placed on the knowledge of plants, rituals, and nature, spoken of only in Kallawaya.
  • Speakers of Chulym have quite a different story. With only 7 speakers left in this remote Siberian village, all but one elderly and deaf, the language will be gone within 25 years. Oppressed by others' negative attitudes about their native tongue, the few remaining speakers were able to finally take joy in seeing themselves speak Chulym on video, and knowing that they were making a valuable contribution to language documentation and preservation of culture.
  • The film follows the last speaker of Chemehuevi, and Indian tribal language from the Arizona region of the US. He drives around in his truck, listening to language CDs made by his grandmother, so he will not forget the words she taught him. He has no one to speak to anymore.
  • The Linguists provides valuable insight to what field research is all about–especially helpful for those of use preparing for this summer's project in Oaxaca. (More info here and here.)
I hope you all have some time to check out this film again when it releases on video and Netflix. It's well worth it. And face it, there's really not a whole lot of feature films out there about our nerdy little passion.

(previous posts about "The Linguists" here and here.)

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