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The Linguists is an independent 2008 American documentary film produced by Ironbound Films about language extinction and language documentation. It follows two linguists, Greg Anderson of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages[2] and David Harrison of Swarthmore College,[3] as they travel around the world to collect recordings of some of the last speakers of several moribund (dying) languages: Chulym in Siberia; Chemehuevi in Arizona, U.S.; Sora in Odisha, India; and Kallawaya in Bolivia.[1]

The Linguists
Movie poster for The Linguists
Directed bySeth Kramer
Daniel A. Miller
Jeremy Newberger
Produced bySeth Kramer
Daniel A. Miller
Jeremy Newberger
Written byDaniel A. Miller
StarringGreg Anderson
K. David Harrison
Music byBrian Hawlk
CinematographySeth Kramer
Jeremy Newberger
Edited byAnne Barliant
Seth Kramer
Release date
  • January 2008 (2008-01) (Sundance Film Festival)
Running time
64 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States


Seth Kramer, one of the directors, describes how he first got the idea for The Linguists when, in Vilnius, Lithuania, he could not read Yiddish inscriptions on a path in spite of his Jewish heritage. He joined with Daniel A. Miller in 2003 to form Ironbound Films, and received a $520,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support the film.[4] Later in 2003, the directors chose Anderson and Harrison to be the protagonists of the film.[5] In 2004, director Jeremy Newberger joined the project.[4]

It took three years to film The Linguists, and during this time over 200 hours of film were collected.[4] During this time, the cast and crew travelled to numerous remote areas that one reporter describes as "godforsaken,"[5] and coped with physical ailments such as altitude sickness.[4]

The film was completed in August 2007.[4]


The film begins with the fact that a large proportion of the world's languages (half, out of a total of 7,000, according to the film[5]) are going extinct. The film's two protagonists, Anderson and Harrison, set out both to gather recordings of several endangered languages in order to document these languages later, and to educate viewers about the current rate of language extinction.[5] In the process, they travel to the Andes mountains in South America, to villages in Siberia, to English boarding schools in Odisha, India, and to an American Indian reservation in Arizona.[1][5]

The film addresses issues including the spread of major global languages and how they contribute to language extinction;[5][6] political and social reasons that some languages have been repressed;[1][7] and reasons that language revitalization and language documentation are important (including both maintaining a scientific record of that language, and preserving unique local knowledge and history that is only carried in the local language).[4][6]


The film was screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival,[8] and later had success on the "indie film circuit."[5] It also received attention among the linguistics community on websites such as Language Log.[9]

The film has been lauded as "the talk of the town at Sundance;"[10] "a fascinating journey;"[11] "funny, enlightening and ultimately uplifting;"[12] "a hoot;"[13] and “shaggy and bittersweet.”[14] While it received some minor criticism for choppy, confusing editing,[1][8] the subject matter has been called "fascinating"[8] and "compelling,"[15] and the spirit of the film's protagonists has been compared to Indiana Jones.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Honeycutt, Kirk (18 January 2008). "The Linguists". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  2. ^ Boyle, Alan (26 February 2009). "The Race To Save Our Languages". MSNBC. Archived from the original on 28 February 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  3. ^ Brooks, Anthony (25 January 2008). "'The Linguists': Saving the World's Languages". WBUR. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Hughes, Jennifer V (13 January 2008). "Racing to Capture Vanishing Languages". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Garreau, Joel (2 October 2008). "Babble On, Say Researchers In 'Linguists' Documentary". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  6. ^ a b "Saving Dying Languages in 'The Linguists'". Weekend Edition. National Public Radio. 21 February 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  7. ^ Ellison, Jesse (14 February 2009). "Say It Loud, Say It Proud". Newsweek. Retrieved 21 February 2009.
  8. ^ a b c Chang, Justin (18 January 2008). "Sundance 2008: The Linguists". Variety. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  9. ^ Baković, Eric (21 February 2009). "Set your recorders now!". Language Log. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  10. ^ Honeycutt, Kirk (21 January 2008). ""Linguists" the talk of the town at Sundance". Reuters. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  11. ^ Turan, Kenneth (16 January 2008). "Small town, large impact". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  12. ^ Barnhart, Aaron (25 February 2008). "'The Linguists': A thrilling pursuit of cultural relics". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved 13 July 2009.[dead link]
  13. ^ Allis, Sam (26 February 2009). "'Linguists' explore a world of words". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  14. ^ Lloyd, Robert (30 June 2009). "Review: 'The Linguists' on KCET". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  15. ^ "At Sundance: Documentaries Take the Day". Vanity Fair. 23 January 2008. Archived from the original on 12 May 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2009.

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