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The Linguists--Film Review
by Karen Pecota

Filmmakers Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger in their documentary The Linguists follow two renowned language scientists, David Harrison and Dr. Gregory Anderson as they journey around the world to document languages near extinction. Their trek to the communities which are dying out are far from modern civilization and the expeditions are often treacherous. However, scientists passionate to save languages from death also have a deep admiration for the people that have long clung to their spoken word because it’s the hope to also preserve their endangered culture.

K. David Harrison, assistant professor at Swarthmore College, where he teaches courses in Anthropology and Cognitive Science, is a quick language learner a specialist in sounds and words. Dr. Gregory D. S. Anderson has numerous credits after his name but received his formal training in Linguistics at Harvard University (A.B.) and university of Chicago (Ph.D.), is an expert in verbs and speaks over 25 languages fluently. His most recent acknowledgement is the discovery of the CHULYM language--the least spoken language in Siberia. These two young men are among a small group of language preservationists who are fighting against time. They estimate that of the known 7,000 languages in the world, half will be gone by the end of this century; and on an average, one language disappears every two weeks.

Admittedly, the film appeared much like a home movie of a family backpack trip wondering through unknown territory. Yes, boring at times…nevertheless, intriguing! The style of filming drew me in, as if I were trekking right along with the dynamic duo to the selected remote people groups listening simultaneously to their explanation of the process of language extinction. For example: Chemehuevi is part of the Numic branch of Southern Paiute languages. There are about five fluent speakers today living in the Colorado River Indian Reservation in western Arizona. The death of this language happened by punishing the speakers when they spoke their dialect. A recording of the dialect made in 1969 is the only accompaniment to the five remaining speakers.

In spite of the difficult task of language preservation The Linguists continue their work and train as many who will join their cause because the possibility is reality. It makes it all worthwhile to see people get excited when they view their language in written form for the very first time coming out of a box, we call a laptop. Safeguarding endangered languages gives those cultures the hope they need for survival.