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The recovery of dying languages

By Nathan Elias
On March 18, 2010

Today, the Department of English and the College of Arts and Sciences are sponsoring a screening of the acclaimed film from the Sundance Film Festival "The Linguists," (2008) which discusses dying languages.

The movie will be introduced by one of the stars of the documentary, K. David Harrison. Harrison and fellow professor and ethnographer Greg Anderson traveled to remote countries in search of languages that are nearly extinct on the planet. The three languages they searched for are Chulym, Sora and Kallawaya.

The pair set out to South America, Siberia, India and Arizona in the United States with a camera and sound equipment to document and interview the last speakers of these languages. According to the documentary, the spread of global languages is increasing the endangerment of ancient languages. In hope to revitalize these dying languages, Harrison and Anderson dive into to the cultures of the languages they seek.

When trying to salvage Kallawaya - a pre-Incan language originating in the Andes mountains - Harrison and Anderson must participate in a ritual that will reveal the truth behind the ancient healing practices of the culture. While desperately trying to track down one of the final speakers of Kallawaya, they lose hope. After participating in the ritual, they realize Kallawaya was a language only used and taught to young men and elders to communicate the healing practices of the culture.

With a vast knowledge of language and linguistics, a hardy set of video and sound equipment and a lot of serendipity, Harrison and Anderson were able to construct a monumental documentary. "The Linguists" is not only a testimony to the effect of global languages, but it is also a saving grace for a few of the world's languages that were in danger of never being heard or spoken again.

"The Linguists" is an inspirational film for anyone studying language, English, film or ethnography. It is equally scientific and artistic as a humanitarian documentary. Harrison and Anderson's mission is motivational for teachers and students and advocates the ability to change the world.

-"The Linguists" will be screening today at 6 p.m. in the Memorial Field House Auditorium with an introduction by Harrison. Harrison will also deliver a lecture on Friday at 4 p.m. in the Driscoll Auditorium. Both events are free and open to the public.

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