Battling Extinction With The Linguists

Finally got to dip back into academia and matters of substance for Wired. This time, I talked language extinction and the digital age with a linguist from the movies. It’s fun to be smart, and it’s smart to care.

The Linguists Battles Language Extinction on Web
[Scott Thill,]
After generating serious buzz and heat upon its release last year, language-extinction documentary The Linguists has but one territory left to explore in its quest to raise awareness of its decidedly non-blockbuster subject matter: the internet.

That ends Monday, when the acclaimed documentary premieres online at brainy video site Babelgum.

“We want the film to reach a broad audience and this is a way to do that,” said K. David Harrison, associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College and one of the scientists featured in the documentary. “The internet, used strategically, has enormous capacity to help get the word out, and to help sustain and support small languages.”

Directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger, The Linguists chronicles the global adventures of Harrison and Greg Anderson, the Harvard and University of Chicago-educated co-founder (with Harrison) of the nonprofit Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, as they race to document vanishing languages from the Andes and Siberia to India and Arizona.

While some reviews have compared the cinematic sojourn of Anderson and Harrison to those of legendary tomb raider Indiana Jones, The Linguists is far from a one-sided cultural exploit disguised as popcorn entertainment.

Rather, it’s a respectful, self-deprecating glimpse into what Harrison calls “ancient systems of knowledge, in many cases more sophisticated than what science knows.” picked the linguist’s brain in an e-mail interview before the Babelgum premiere, discussing language extinction in the Twitter age and why a daily dose of coca leaves is not the same as a cocaine habit. MORE @ WIRED

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