LANGUAGE IN MOVIES II.

Almost a decade ago I did a post about language in movies; now I’ll use Stan Carey’s “Films of linguistic interest” as the springboard for another. Stan mentions the experimental French film Themroc, the Canadian film Pontypool, the Greek film Dogtooth (Kynodontas), Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the ’40s screwball comedy Ball of Fire (which I’ve seen and can recommend), My Fair Lady, The Princess Bride, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Nu Shu: A Hidden Language of Women in China, and The Grammar of Happiness, and concludes: “If you have any more suggestions, or thoughts on the films I’ve mentioned, please add them in a comment, with spoiler warnings if necessary. I’ll update if I think of more.” Feel free to discuss here and/or there, where there are already many suggestions in the comments (someone mentioned the first movie I thought of, Avatar).

Comments

  1. Thanks for the link, Hat. I’ve updated the post with further (tweeted) suggestions.
    The link to Eve’s list in your earlier post no longer works, but it can be accesed via the Internet Archive.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not sure if it is exactly on-topic, but the 1998 Mask of Zorro has a few lines of actual spoken Nahuatl. It seems to me Nahuatl is a bit out of place in Baja California (could be wrong) but I was still almost as impressed by that as by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

  3. Of course that’s on topic (not that it matters greatly), and it makes me more interested in seeing the movie!

  4. David,
    “It seems to me Nahuatl is a bit out of place in Baja California (could be wrong) ”
    It is if they are presenting the sepaker as native; Nahuatl is no more native in Baja than Spanish – but it would certainly be present there and for the same reason. Mexicans acompanied Spaniards on all their explorations into both Californias and eastward too.
    Language in movies – Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” is mostly in Mandarin, I think, but he has some characters speak Shanghainese because they are in the story.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Mood_for_Love
    There’s another Chinese mvie that came out a few yeas ago, set in WWII with a group of rich kids opposing the Japanese, and when characters goe to Shanghai or Hong Kong, they make an effort to use Cantonese or Shanghainese by way of being good travelers.

  5. Jim is quite correct, Nahuatl speakers accompanied Spaniards on expeditions further North in colonial times, and indeed as a result Nahuatl loanwords are found in a number of Native languages spoken in the present-day United States (Nahuatl TEOPAN(TLI) seems more widespread than IGLESIA as the etymon for “Church” in these languages, for example).
    My own film of linguistic interest: Milco Mancevski’s 1994 movie BEFORE THE RAIN. Quite apart from being a beautiful and powerful piece of art in and of itself, it is a trilingual (English, Albanian, Macedonian) movie with inter-ethnic conflict as a core theme.
    I once recommended it to a faculty movie club I was a member of, and while the other members did appreciate it none of them were linguists or polyglots, and thus during the movie I had to tell them whenever switching from Albanian to Macedonian or vice-versa took place, especially since this is a very important point during some of the more tense moments between Macedonian and Albanian characters in the movie.
    Actually, one of my colleagues, whose parents spoke Ukrainian but who himself did not have an active command of the language, asked me if Macedonian was Slavic and Albanian non-Slavic (I of course told him he was right on both counts): on the basis of his passive knowledge of Ukrainian he told me he found Macedonian partially intelligible and Albanian utterly incomprehensible. I’ll admit I was surprised: typologically Macedonian and Ukrainian are two very dissimilar Modern Slavic languages, and I would not have expected a non-active speaker of one to understand anything of the other.

  6. And there is Apocalypto. Linguistically interesting because it was a mainstream movie using a hitherto totally (and unjustly) neglected language. Ten Canoes was a somewhat lesser known example using Yolŋu Matha, an Australian Aboriginal language.

  7. Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” is mostly in Mandarin, I think, but he has some characters speak Shanghainese because they are in the story.
    Here “Mandarin” is a braino for “Cantonese”, I think, the setting being 1962 Hong Kong. The Shanghainese is definitely in there too as you say.

  8. @Etienne: I’ve generally found that Slavic languages are sufficiently similar with regards to lexicon and derivational morphology that if you know one or two, one can recognise and even partially understand the other ones as well. I think the differences in typology are more of a problem when really learning them, as opposed to simply recognsing them as Slavic.

  9. Etienne,
    “and indeed as a result Nahuatl loanwords are found in a number of Native languages spoken in the present-day United States (Nahuatl TEOPAN(TLI) seems more widespread than IGLESIA as the etymon for “Church” in these languages, for example).”
    Let me guess; most or all of those languages are Uto-Aztecan. Is there some kind of genetic histocompatibility between languages that enables or prevents borrowings?
    Matt,
    That mistake was more and “igno” than a “braino” – I simply forgot which language they used. Since the main characters were refined and calm, it probably didn’t register in my mnd as Cantonese even at the time.

  10. IMDB’s keyword search is in need of a better curator. Compare language with nudity.

  11. I offer this with a certain trepidation, but what about, “The Gods Must Be Crazy.”? IIRC, it is now panned by anthropologists as presenting an absurdly simplistic picture of the Bushmen. However, that would not necessarily make it of no linguistic interest.
    It’s been quite a while since I saw it (put it this way: it was on a Betamax, and it was back when Betamaxes were NEW), but, IIRC, it features Bushmen dialogue (I have no idea if it is authentic or not), and, while it has a narrator, the narrator does not purport to offer anything approaching a literal translation of what is said by the Bushmen: just the general thrust, enough to allow a viewer (who only understands English) to follow the story.

  12. Quoted for surrealism:

    “I don cash when you have within the visual story. I have to catch you quick,” he was quoted saying. The armoire, from Urban Habitat in Burbank, had an Indonesian feel; rrt had been repainted and glazed.. However is the woman who just transferred to a brand new place and misses her daughter, and also require been her shopping companion. For those who have permit her to take pleasure in the shoes, which even YOU said would’ve gone perfectly along with your ex outfit, marriage that may happen to become questionaire gesture that he will not even forget for any limited time? However, you kept the footwear. It is not necessary another among pumps.

  13. Jim: several of the relevant languages of the American Southwest (i.e. those with Colonial Spanish as well as Nahuatl borrowings) are not Uto-Aztecan (Zuni, Keresan, Kiowa-Tanoan for example), and as far as I know there is no dividing line in the region between Uto-Aztecan and non-Uto-Aztecan languages in terms of how receptive to Nahuatl borrowings they are.
    Nor would I expect there to be such a dividing line: borrowing is indeed easier between *closely* related languages, but my understanding is that Nahuatl and Uto-Aztecan languages of the American Southwest, genetically related though they are, are simply too unlike one another today (or were, back in Colonial times) for their genetic relatedness to have any tangible impact on how receptive the latter would be to borrowings from the former.

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