Press Release 09-025 - Video
Linguist David Harrison of Swarthmore College discusses the documentary "The Linguists."
Linguist David Harrison of Swarthmore College discusses the documentary, "The Linguists." Harrison and Gregory Anderson of the Living Tongues Institute were the subjects of the film, which follows their efforts to record endangered languages and understand the cultural and political pressures threatening their extinction.
Credit: National Science Foundation
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David Harrison: What's great about being a linguist is, I get to travel all over the world, and meet amazing people, often times elders, who have wonderful stories to tell, who have seen perhaps major shifts in how their people live and survive and I get to listen to the stories they tell, record them, and then I get to bring that back. And thru the film, "The Linguists," I get to present some of that work to American audiences.
Languages are disappearing all around the world so of the 7,000 languages that we know about, half of them are endangered. Essentially because people are abandoning them under various social and economic pressures.
When a language goes extinct, it matters to science because we're losing a unique entity which we would like to study. But perhaps more importantly, it matters to the people in the community that speak that language and that own it because it encapsulates their whole history, their collective wisdom, their knowledge about their world, their history, basically their knowledge base that in most cases isn't written down anywhere and has never been documented.