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25 Must-See Movies Featuring Linguists, Linguistics and Languages



See also: Language Learning Resources


1. Iceman (1984)

A team of Arctic researchers find a 40,000 year-old man frozen in ice and bring him back to life (no, this isn't the comedy Encino Man). His speech is decoded by a linguist from MIT using a "pitch stress meter".

Get the DVD here: Iceman DVD




2. Pontypool (2010)

A must-see for linguists. A virus spreads through a community and only a linguist can solve the mystery. Can't give more details without spoilers.  

Get the DVD here: Pontypool DVD






3. Ghost Warrior (1984)

A deep-frozen 400-year-old samurai is shipped to Los Angeles, where he comes back to life, speaking an ancient Japanese dialect.

Get the DVD here:   Ghost Warrior






4. Ball of Fire (1941)

A lexicographer realizes that the slang section of his dictionary is outdated and decides to visit a nightclub where he meets a snarky burlesque performer. He becomes fascinated by her command of popular jargon, but she is the fiancée of a mobster and wanted by the police.

Get the DVD here: Ball of Fire DVD




5. Enemy Mine (1985)

A science-fiction film about a human and alien soldier who become stranded together on an inhospitable planet and must overcome their mutual distrust and learn each others' languages in order to cooperate and survive.

Get the DVD here: Enemy Mind DVD







6. My Fair Lady (1964)

By now, everyone knows this tale of the phonetician who makes a bet that he can refine the cockney speech of Eliza Doolittle

Get the DVD here: My Fair Lady DVD

7. Nell (1994)

Two doctors observe and try to communicate with a wild woodswoman in North Carolina who speaks a strange unknown language.

Get the DVD here: Nell DVD    

8. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

A Disney cartoon featuring a decipherer of ancient languages who finds the lost continent.


Get the DVD here: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

9. Stargate (1994)

A linguist and Egyptologist is transported to another planet where his knowledge of hieroglyphics and ancient languages proves useful as the natives speak a dialect that has evolved from ancient Egyptian.

Get the DVD here: Stargate DVD



10. Windtalkers (2002)

A drama about the use of the Navajo language as a secret code during World War II.

Get the DVD here: Windtalkers DVD








11. Finding Nemo (2016)

Speaking of Navajo, this movie was recently re-released with a Navajo dubbed soundtrack


(Star Wars is also available in Navajo here: Star Wars in Navajo )



12. Youth without Youth (2008)

Movie about a 70-year old linguist (working on finding roots of human language) who suddently becomes 35 again.


Get the DVD here: Youth without Youth DVD



13. The Statue (1971)

A risqué comedy featuring a British linguist who becomes internationally famous for inventing a universal language (Unispeak)

Get the DVD here: The Statue DVD


14. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser / Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (1974) (German)

This movie is based on a true story about one of the few socially-isolated children who learned to speak after the age of 17

Get the DVD here: Enigma of Kaspar Hauser DVD




 
15. On Top of the Whale / Het dak van de Walvis (1982)

A parody of anthropology, linguistics, and cultural imperialism. The film follows an unlikely team of linguists into the wilds of an ersatz Patagonia to study the last speakers of a dying language. That language apparently consists of a single word, which therefore means everything.

Only available on VHS: On Top of the Whale


16. The Wild Child / L'enfant sauvage (1969)

Another movie about a language-deprived child found in south-western France in the late 18th century.

Get the DVD here: The Wild Child DVD


17. Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)

The protagonist in this movie works at a translation agency. She translates Spanish into English for her boss at work and English into Spanish for her pregnant Chilean friend.


Get the DVD here: Truly, Madly, Deeply DVD





18. The Miracle Worker (1962)


Teacher Anne Sullivan leads deaf and blind Helen Keller out of darkness and teaches her about language.



Get the DVD here: Miracle Worker DVD



19. The Linguists (2008)

In this documentary, director Seth Kramer follows a pair of language scholars as they journey through rugged lands in order to find isolated civilizations and hear rare tongues. The linguists, who speak a combined two dozen languages themselves, go to Siberia to listen to a language that will most likely disappear in the next few decades. They trek to India to explore how English colonists altered the nation's culture, and they also visit the American Southwest to talk with Native Americans.



20. The Grammar of Happiness (2012)

The Grammar Of Happiness follows the story of Daniel Everett among the extraordinary Amazonian Piraha tribe, a group of indigenous hunter- gatherers whose culture and outlook on life has taken the world of linguistics by storm. His assignment was to translate the book of Mark into the tongue of the Piraha, a people whose puzzling speech seemed unrelated to any other on Earth. What he learned during his time with the Piraha led him to question the very foundations of his own deep beliefs.

21. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

In this movie, the dialogue is entirely in reconstructed Aramaic, vernacular Hebrew and Latin with subtitles.

Get the DVD here: Passion of the Christ DVD
22. Apocalypto (2006) This movie was filmed entirely in the Yucatec Maya language (with subtitles) Get the DVD here: Apocalypto DVD
23. The Interpreter (2005) The Interpreter features an interpreter at the United Nations who speaks a made-up African language based on Shona and Swahili, created by an African linguist in London. Get the DVD here: The Interpreter DVD
24. Last of the Mohicans (1992)
The characters in the movie were supposed to be speaking either Mahican or Mohegan, but in actual fact, they're not. The "Huron" characters in the movie are actually speaking two different languages, Cherokee and Mohawk, while the "Mohican" characters are speaking Delaware/Lenape, which is related to both Mohican and Mohegan and is probably a good compromise. Get the DVD here: Last of the Mohicans DVD

25. The Sleeping Dictionary (2003) John Truscott goes to Borneo to work with the Iban. He reports to Henry Bullard, who gives him a "sleeping dictionary"--one of the locals who teaches him the local language and culture.  Get the DVD here: The Sleeping Dictionary DVD




BONUS MOVIES: Other movies suggested by readers:
Still Alive (2014)
Arrival (2016)
The 13th Warrior (1999) DVD Here (famous for this scene where Antonio Banderas learns Old Icelandic by "listening"): Link to YouTube Video
Spanglish (2004) DVD Here
Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner learns Lakota)  DVD Here
Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006) (showcases Quebec French) DVD Here
Babel (2006) (movie with four stories each filmed in a different language) DVD Here
Oscar (1991) (dialectologist asked to teach proper language)
Chan is Missing (1982) (includes a lecture on sociolinguistics) DVD Here
A Thousand Clowns (1965) (features a man who can identify dialects) DVD Here

Click here for Language Crawler's Language Resource Page

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This book sets out to answer a question that many linguists have been hesitant to ask: are some languages better than others? Can we say, for instance, that because German has three genders and French only two, German is a better language in this respect? Jarawara, spoken in the Amazonian jungle, has two ways of showing possession: one for a part (e.g. 'Father's foot') and the other for something which is owned and can be given away or sold (e.g. 'Father's knife'); is it thus a better language than English, which marks all possession in the same way? Click here to get the book
Dictionary of Imaginary Languages | Dictionnaire Des Langues Imaginaire (578 pages)

Dictionary of Conlangs (written in French)

Click Here to Get the Book











Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas

Click here to get the book 



 

8 comments:

Cedasperate said...

I've just watched "Arrival" and it's also a perfect movie for linguists. And don't forget about "Still Alice", they're both very interesting.

Anonymous said...

How did "Ixcanul" not make the cut?

Anonymous said...

Another good movie is "Marie Heurtin" (available in German and French). It's based on the true story of of Marie Heurtin, who was born blind and deaf and taught to communicate using sign language.

Anonymous said...

As a person with a degree in linguistics, I do not agree with you about "Arrival". It is a perfect film for people who may have an interest, but no real study of the field. The alien language promised so much but really delivered only the basics and then forgot about the language altogether. They pretty well had a "Team America: World Police" montage skipping over the language reveals.
Having said that, for the film, it was the right move. To delve any deeper would have lost the mainstream audience. I do think it is a wonderful idea of a language and it serves to generate interest in our field among the public.

SPOILER...


I thought the non-linear time aspects to be lazy - the time paradox stuff has been done to death.

Anonymous said...

And a book that should be made into a movie (or TV series): "Lamikorda" by D.R. Merrill, which was a SciFi365 Book of the Year. Survivors of a devastated Earth and invited by the Alplai to settle on one of their colonized worlds. The linguistic, political and cultural differences cause some friction as the two species struggle to live and work together. The author even constructed the Kiitra language to be used in the story.

http://lamikorda.wordpress.com

Ingrid said...

Forgot Quest for Fire.

Unknown said...

"My Fair Lady" is listed, but also consider "Pygmalion" (1938). From Rotten Tomatoes: "Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller star in Anthony Asquith's and Leslie Howard's classic version of George Bernard Shaw's satiric comedy." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_(1938_film)
-- Rains

Lee Eisenberg said...

My parents saw "Windtalkers". Their complaint about it was that it focused more on battles than on the translation.

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