Corvallis Gazette Times, December 11, 2008
Oregon researcher races to save rare languages in action-filled documentary
In "The Linguists" we quickly learn that in the race to document dying languages, time is not on your side.
Perhaps this is why the film, which premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, moves at as near frenetic a pace as a documentary can as we globe trek to some of the obscurest locations on the planet with intrepid researchers Gregory Anderson, who is director of the Living Tongues Institute in Salem, and David Harrison.
Why the rush? Of the more than 7,000 distinct languages in the world today, one disappears every two weeks or so, and scientists estimate that half will be gone by the end of this century.
"The Linguists" visits with speakers of four of these endangered tongues. Anderson and Harrison, who know more than 25 languages between them, go to great lengths to find people fluent in Chulym in remote Siberia, Sora in east-central India, Kallawaya in the high country of Bolivia and Chemehuevi on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in western Arizona.
They say that they are on a mission, "Not just learn the language, but the impossible way the mind makes sense of the world."
Indeed, the two uncover some unique ways of seeing the world through language, such as what would be an entire sentence in English rendered to a single word in Chulym, and a base 12 and 20 numbering system in Sora, that is hands down one of the most complicated on the planet. That would make the number 94 in our base 10 system translate to "four 20s, 13 and 1."
The film gives some background on the influences that have plagued native languages, such as the history of colonization and of boarding schools which the film calls an "efficient" way to educate students from rural areas, but an "unmitigated disaster for native languages."
The real heart of the film comes from the touching stories of speakers and communities empowered to appreciate and protect their languages, due in part to the infectious enthusiasm of Anderson and Harrison.
Even so, the film is sure to instigate ethical discussions about the role of outsiders in preserving native cultures — but that's a good thing.
Ironbound Films Inc. presents a documentary by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger.
Running time: 65 minutes.
RATED: Not rated. (Short section with animal sacrifice, otherwise suitable for all ages).
PLAYING AT: Darkside Cinema.
(Contributed by Ironbound Films Inc. — Linguist Gregory Anderson, of Salem, left, with Oranchu Gomongo, a speaker of the endangered Sora language, in India. Anderson is realizing that Sora uses a base 12 and 20 numbering system. )