VOT-PEL-JIC-RUD. VOT-RUD-JIC-TAM. These aren’t word puzzles or acronym-making gone mad. Though the words are meaningless, they are sentences in a language—one of perhaps hundreds of miniature artificial languages that language scientists have created for their research.
These mini-languages are to real languages what Matchboxes are to real cars. You won’t find them spoken on the street or written online.
They are, however, useful simulations used in laboratories that show how humans learn languages in all their varied forms.
Such research seeks to understand how we learn the linguistic significance of patterns in speech: where do words begin and end? What are the important words in a sentence? Which parts of language are learned first? How do babies and adults learn languages differently?
Looking for linguistics and language-related films to watch? Mary Ann Walter, a linguist who runs a linguistics film series at Middle East Technical University, Northern Cyprus, has kindly forwarded her very extensive list of linguistically-relevant movies, documentaries, and episodes of TV shows, and given me permission to post it.
I have only watched some of these movies and have only very lightly edited Mary Ann’s notes, so I cannot vouch for all of them, but I hope this list is helpful to people! If you know of any linguistically-relevant films that we’ve somehow missed, do add them in the comments. Asterisks indicate ones that are available on youtube.
Star Trek Darmok episode, 1991.
Pontypool. 2008. Horror. In a Canadian town, the English language somehow gets infected and makes them zombies.
The Falls. 1980. Mock documentary about something which killed many and left others with strange symptoms, including suddenly speaking new languages.
*Het Dak van de Walvis (On Top of the Whale) 1982 Raoul Ruiz. Parody of much of western academia. A group of field linguists set out to study an exotic language which consists only of one single word, which therefore means everything. Very strange, not a crowdpleaser.
Being John Malkovich. Also features a single word language.
*Do you speak American (3 episodes, each 1 hour).
*Talking Canadian (43 minutes). Difference between Canadian and US English.
Road Scholar (1993) directed by Roger Weisberg. US Poet and NPR commentator takes a road trip across the US shortly after getting his driver’s license after being a pedestrian for twenty years. Language and region are foregrounded. Also features some American language and culture.
American Tongues, 1987.
*The Story of English (10 episodes, each 1 hour).
*The Adventure of English (2003, BBC, 8 episodes, each 1 hour).
Trainspotting. For Scottish English.
Riff Raff (1991) directed by Ken Loach. UK. This film about a group of construction workers features working class dialects. What was significant about the film is that it had English language subtitles for English speaking audiences.
*My Fair Lady. 1964.
Pygmalion 1983, starring Peter O’Toole.
Singing in the Rain. 1952.
Indigenous and Language Endangerment
*Linguistics and Human Rights. 1 hour. With Michel de Graff.
*Why should we protect endangered languages? Nicholas Ostler. 47 min.
Our spirits don’t speak English. (Native boarding schools in the U.S.)
The Linguists. (Gregory Anderson and K. David Harrison).
Vanishing Voices. PBS documentary.
Language Matters. 2015. Also PBS.
*We still live here. PBS on Wampanoag. 2011.
In languages we live. 2005. Danish and English.
Finding our talk. 2001. Canadian series on their Indigenous languages, experiences and revitalization efforts. 26 half-hour episodes.
Ga-du-gi. 2005. On Cherokee.
*The Hawaiian language shall live. 1997. 28 min.
More than words. 1996. Eyak Alaskan lang. 50 min.
Huchoosedah: traditions of the heart. 1995. 60 min. Lushootseed.
Transitions: destruction of a mother tongue. 1991. Blackfoot, 30 min.
Ultima palabra/last word, 2003. Mexico.
*Son sesler/last voices 1987. On Ubykh, in Turkish, 27 min.
*Rising Voices: Revitalizing the Lakota Language. 1 hour.
*Where the Spirit Lives, 1989. On Canadian residential schools of 1930s.
Ten canoes. 2006. Aboriginal elder tells story on a hunt.
Yolngu boy. 2001. Three Aboriginal adolescents set off for advice on court case from elder.
Rabbitproof fence. 2002. 3 Aboriginal girls taken from home to be maids, try to return.
‘Black and White’, 2002, a ‘based on a true story’ Australian film featuring a storyline where the defence argues that a ‘confession’ presented to the court in Standard Australian English shouldn’t be admitted as it was highly unlikely that this was an accurate representation of what the Aboriginal defendant could have produced. It even features the linguist Strehlow (big name in early Australian linguistics, and anthropology) as an expert witness.
Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa). It has nice illustrations of bilingualism/multilingualism, code-switching, and child L2 acquisition. Jewish family moves to Africa in 1930s.
Nigerian pidgin opera. 1 hour long. Can watch it streaming from the internet, but no subtitles, not possible to follow words.
Windtalkers 2002 John Woo. Navajo code talkers in WW2.
Picture Bride. 1994. Hawaiian Pidgin English.
*Black Robe. 1991. Algonquian language in the 17th/18th century.
The Harder they Come. 1973. director: Perry Henzell. Lots of Jamaican creole.
*Stepping Razor Red X. 1992. director: Nicholas Campbell. Documentary with Jamaican Creole.
*Life and Debt in Jamaica.
Feral languages, Acquisition
Dogtooth 2009. Greek film about children are kept isolated by their parents, lots of violence and sexual abuse, not appropriate for most audiences.
*The enigma of Kaspar Hauser. Herzog, 1974. (On youtube but only in German, no subtitles).
Nell. 1994. Another feral child movie, starring Jodie Foster.
*The wild child (l’enfant sauvage) Truffaut, 1969.
*Secret of the wild child. Nova 1994.
The human language series, 1995, three episodes.
Mockingbird Don’t Sing. 2001. Also on Genie, just with names changed.
*Project Nim. 2011. On the chimp/language attempt.
The Jennie Project 2001 Gary Nadeau. Two anthropologists adopt a chimp, raise it with their own children, and teach it American Sign Language. Can rent streaming from Amazon but on own laptop ($3)
*A conversation with koko the gorilla. PBS doc. 1 hr. 1999.
Koko: A talking gorilla. 1978. Documentary.
Koko: The gorilla who talks (to people). 2016 BBC/PBS 1 hr.
*Kanzi: An Ape of Genius. 1993. In 4 parts on yt, total 1 hr.
Kanzi: Communicating apes. 13 min clip on yt of Natl Geographic show.
Human Ape. 2008. National Geographic 2 hour program. More general than just language, but includes it, as well as Kanzi. On yt but in 10 parts of 10 min each.
*Sue Savage-Rumbaugh 20 min TED talk on bonobos. (not only language).
*First Signs of Washoe. Nova season 1 ep 10. On yt in 2 parts. Total 1 hr.
Dolphins. 2000 imax movie. 40 min.
*The Girl who talked to dolphins. 2014. BBC, 1 hour. She lived with it and spoke English. Can supplement with something short like those below.
*Dolphins: Even smarter than you thought. 2015 Natl Geo, 16 min only, but shows interactive chat tech.
Inside the animal mind, BBC 2014, secrets of the social world, 20 min segment on dolphins. V. good.
*Nova science now: How smart are dolphins. 2014. 11 min, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Denise Herzing TED talk, could we speak the language of dolphins.
*In the wild with Robin Williams: Dolphins. 1994. 1 hour national geographic episode. Includes Akeakamai, the dolphin who learned to follow gestural syntax.
*BBC wildlife on one, dolphins: deep thinkers, 2003, ½ hour episode.
Deafness and Sign Language
*Sound and Fury, 2000. 80 min. Family debate over cochlear implant.
*Sound and Fury: 6 years later.
*The Heather World, TEDx talk, 13 min, by child from Sound and Fury
*TED talk by Rachel Kolb, 16 min, navigating deafness in a hearing world.
*Keith Nolan, TED, Deaf in the military.
*Life and Deaf, 2016, BBC documentary, one hour.
*For a Deaf Son, 2013 PBS doc, one hour.
*Bridge to Silence, 1989, a woman rejoins theater of the Deaf after an accident and quarrels with her mother.
*Through Deaf Eyes. NEH documentary, 2 hours.
Speechless. 2014. Documentary about aphasia.
*The Miracle Worker. 1962. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Also 1979 and 2000 versions.
*Black (2005) Hindi movie, woman who can’t hear, see or talk. Inspired by Keller. Full 2 hrs. Can be watched online: http://www.hindilinks4u.to/2007/06/black-2005.html
Help me to speak. Stuttering.
The King’s speech. Stuttering too, early speech therapy, Colin Firth.
Still Alice. 2014. Linguistics professor with early onset Alzheimer’s, lexical loss. Julianne Moore.
Speechless. 2016. Television show about a cerebral palsy kid (and his family) who can’t speak. Comedy.
The Sullivanish teacher ends up w/Alzheimer’s himself, incl speech probs.
2013 Turkish remake! Benim Dunyam.
Behind the Lines/Regeneration, 1997, about PTSD-related elective mutism. (WWI poets)
Regarding Henry, 1991. Some speech pathology after brain injury (gunshot).
Rocket science, 2007. High school stutterer joins debate team. Coming-of-age, kind of inappropriate.
*Open Door: Aphasia, interviews w/NZ patients, 30 min.
*Inside Aphasia, 3 parts, 20 min. Both kind of boring.
Tom Stoppard’s plays Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth, especially the former, are written in a version of English in which the words are all normal but have completely different meanings.
Ball of Fire, 1941. A group of ivory-tower lexicographers realize they need to hear how real people talk, and end up helping a beautiful singer avoid police and escape from the Mob. Cooper and Stanwyck.
The grammar of happiness. 2012. Dan Everett and Pirahã.
Nu Shu: A hidden language of women in China. 1999. Really about a writing system, not language, but interesting. 59 minutes only.
Camouflage. 1977. Action revolves around a linguistics summer school. Polish.
Whistled languages. 30 min doc on Greek one, Antia village, but a lot about just village life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHp2yDNc304
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHc7x_zDwl4 Also Antia, 22 min.
Silbo, Spanish based, Canaries:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgEmSb0cKBg 10 min
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0CIRCjoICA 5 min. good. Class scenes.
5 min on Turkish:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQf38Ybo1IY (same; use shorter one w/out intro)
Whistles in the Mist; 30 min one on Mexico (chiflidos en la neblina; in English, subbed in Span) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPuE0UMEMEs→http://intheamericas.org/works/210-whistles-in-the-mist-whistled-speech-in-oaxaca/ (w/out sp) Interesting questions about origin of lg. typology.
- Iceman (1984)
- Pontypool (2010)
- Ghost Warrior (1984)
- Ball of Fire (1941)
- Enemy Mine (1985)
- My Fair Lady (1964)
- Nell (1994)
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
- Stargate (1994)
- Windtalkers (2002)
- Finding Nemo (2016)
- Youth without Youth (2008)
- The Statue (1971)
- The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser / Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (1974)
- On Top of the Whale / Het dak van de Walvis (1982)
- The Wild Child / L’enfant sauvage (1969)
- Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)
- The Miracle Worker (1962)
- The Linguists (2008)
- The Grammar of Happiness (2012)
- The Passion of the Christ (2004)
- Apocalypto (2006)
- The Interpreter (2005)
- Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- The Sleeping Dictionary (2003)
BONUS MOVIES: Other movies suggested by readers:
Still Alive (2014)
The 13th Warrior (1999) (famous for this scene where Antonio Banderas learns Old Icelandic by «listening»): Link to YouTube Video
Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner learns Lakota)
Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006) (showcases Quebec French)
Babel (2006) (movie with four stories each filmed in a different language)
Oscar (1991) (dialectologist asked to teach proper language)
Chan is Missing (1982) (includes a lecture on sociolinguistics)
A Thousand Clowns (1965) (features a man who can identify dialects)
With the advancement of cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychological research, the field of language neurobiology is at a cross-roads with respect to its framing theories. The central thesis of this article is that the major historical framing model, the Classic “Wernicke-Lichtheim-Geschwind” model, and associated terminology, is no longer adequate for contemporary investigations into the neurobiology of language. We argue that the Classic model (1) is based on an outdated brain anatomy; (2) does not adequately represent the distributed connectivity relevant for language, (3) offers a modular and “language centric” perspective, and (4) focuses on cortical structures, for the most part leaving out subcortical regions and relevant connections.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2016.08.004
A father in Ireland goes to watch a football match with his buddy while his daughter has to study Irish, or Gaelic – the ancient language of Ireland. After over-celebrating his club’s victory, he awakes in the morning and finds he only speaks Irish, and that he doesn’t even understand English. His buddy is aghast at this situation, believing his friend to have become possessed, but his daughter manages to translate his friend’s assertion that this change may have been caused by a blow to the head during the revelries of the past evening’s celebrations. They decide to hit him again, and use a frying pan for the job. Disastrous results ensue. [Fuente]
En los años 90, el profesor Paul Baker empezó a escribir anuncios en la sección de contactos de varias revistas gays. Solo buscaba hablar. Literalmente. Buscaba a los antiguos hablantes del polari, un lenguaje extinto que se popularizó a mediados del siglo pasado en los bares gais de Inglaterra. Después de varias entrevistas y meses de investigación, Baker hizo un libro que recopilaba las palabras más usadas de esta jerga marginal. Un corto basado en este trabajo ha rescatado del olvido el polari y ha puesto el foco en un lenguaje que nació en los bajos fondos de Inglaterra y acabó muriendo de éxito. Esta es su historia.https://www.yorokobu.es/polari-el-lenguaje-gay/
Paul Baker, profesor de la universidad de Lancaster especializado en lenguaje y temas de género y sexualidad, ha contabilizado más de 500 palabras, aunque asegura que es «improbable que la mayoría de la gente conociera y usara tantas». Al tratarse de una jerga que surgió de forma espontánea y orgánica, el polari tenía unos 20 términos en su génesis, conocidos por todos los hablantes, y a partir de ahí variaba según la zona o los ambientes en los que se diera.
Incluso el propio nombre del lenguaje, polari (proveniente del italiano parlare: hablar) no fue unánime, y muchos lo conocían como ‘palari’, ‘palare’ o ‘parlaree’. Su origen es difuso, pero Baker lo sitúa en torno a los años 30 y habla de influencias como el ya citado italiano, el occitano, el francés, la lengua franca usada por las fuerzas aéreas americanas y el cant, una jerga usada por criminales.
Este mejunje lingüístico dio como resultado una jerga relativamente cohesionada que tenía su epicentro en el casco urbano de Londres. Puede que ahí estuviera su génesis y palabras como ‘Dilly’ (para referirse a la céntrica Plaza de Picadilly, frecuentada entonces por prostitutos) parecen confirmar esta teoría. Sin embargo, el polari se fue extendiendo por la Inglaterra urbana en la primera mitad del siglo XX, cuando la homosexualidad era un pecado que podía llevarte a la cárcel y era mejor camuflar en función del tipo de conversación. Pero, ¿cómo sonaba el polari? Exactamente así.