TV Guide

TV Guide, February 23, 2009
Editor's Pick of the Week: 'Linguists' is more than words

Melissa Hank

Are you like me, and always find yourself famelicose once four o'clock hits? When you're on the verge of saying too much, can you obacerate effectively? Do you chalk up your lack of lottery winnings to a severe scaevity?

Indian boarding school

Nope, I'm not spouting imaginary verbosity — those are actual words. Only thing is, they haven't been used in the English language for at least 230 years. Are we worse off for that? David Harrison and Greg Anderson, the two scientists in PBS's The Linguists, might say so.

The 65-minute documentary, which was featured at the Sundance Film Festival last year, follows the pair of multi-linguists (they speak 25 languages between them) as they track languages on the verge of extinction, journeying from Siberia to India to Bolivia.

Harrison and Anderson find that vanished languages don't just reflect fading fads, like Kw'adza and Zhang-Zhung being tossed aside like pairs of neon-pink bicycle pants. No, there are deeper socio-political forces churning, and often racism, colonialism and economic unrest fall into the mix as entire Indigenous populations' heritages are at stake.

Directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger of Ironbound Films, The Linguists is a personal project as well: the idea took root when Kramer was filming in Lithuania and happened upon Jewish tombstones, which his grandparents could have read, but he could not, reports

The entire concept makes me wonder how much culture has disappeared with words like "famelicose" (meaning "very hungry"), "obacerate" ("to stop one's mouth") and "scaevity" ("unluckiness")? Is there an entire layer of the English language that I could be using to my advantage in a heated game of Scrabble?

And what of new additions to the English language, like semi-annoying text abbreviations "ttyl" and the ever-present "lol"? Do they mean, as Hank Moody proposed in Californication, that we're devolving into a society with an intellect equal to the ape?

But enough ruminating for now... it's four o'clock and I'm famelicose. Excuse me while I'm AFK — I'll BRB, but while I'm gone, try 2 POAHF. Wow. Suddenly I have a hankering for a big, juicy banana.

The Linguists debuts Thursday, Feb. 26, at 10 p.m. ET (check for listings).

(Photo: Non-Hindus engage in Hindu prayer at an Indian boarding school for tribal children.)