A while back I posted about the movie The Linguists, which “follows David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, scientists racing to document languages on the verge of extinction.” If, like me, you missed it when it was shown on TV (my taping skills somehow failed me), you will be glad to know it’s online, for the time being, at Babelgum. It’s an hour long and quite enjoyable, though I wished they had spent less time on local color and more on the actual documentation of the languages. But when they finally turn on the cameras and tapes and start eliciting, it’s a blast, and if (like me) you were particularly interested in Chulym, don’t worry—they get back to it towards the end and even transcribe some onscreen. (I just wish they’d clarified whether it’s closer to Tatar—i.e., Western Turkic—or Khakas—i.e., Northern Turkic; accounts differ.) Anyway, catch it while you can!


  1. I caught this on TV, and can recommend it for anyone interested in languages or travel. For those not sure what a real life linguist looks like, it’s good, too.

  2. I’ve been looking for a long time for this movie, but on their website, they sell the DVD for $300, way above my budget for that.
    I was thinking of splitting the price with some friends, to buy it and then torrent it. 🙂
    Anyway, many thanks. 🙂

  3. Here, can any of you tell me if this is right?
    I’m going to have a Russian day at my blog, and I want to write something like: ‘Greetings to our Russian colleagues from the goats of Norway’. I pressed ‘translate’ and it came out as:
    ‘Поздравления с нашими российскими коллегами из коз Норвегии’.
    When I retranslate it, it comes out: ‘Congratulations to our Russian colleagues from goats Norway’. Is that as good a translation as I’m going to get?

  4. There are actually 2 (at least) so-called dialects of Chulym. Upper Chulym is closer to Northern Altay and some Siberian Turkic (that is, it’s y-Turkic) and Middle Chulym is closer to Khakas and the Mrass dialect of Shor (z-Turkic). It appears that the Russians indiscriminately lumped together everyone who lives in the Chulym River valley as one ethno-linguistic group.

  5. @AJP Crown:
    Привет нашим русским коллегам от норвежских козлов.
    “Goats” has a secondary, pejorative meaning, especially if referring to the author(s) of the greeting.

  6. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but the name of the noble goat has acquired the slang sense of ‘scoundrel, bastard’ in Russian.

  7. Chris: Thanks! Somebody should edit the Wikipedia article to clarify that (with references).

  8. Oh dear, it’s good I checked here first. Thanks very much.

  9. I haven’t seen the film yet, only heard it disparaged by some language-documentation types, but from the descriptions, I wonder whether The Linguists has anything more to do with preserving exotic languages than Andrew Zimmern’s documentaries have to do with preserving “bizarre” culinary traditions.

  10. Well, yes it does, that’s what the linguists are engaged in—it’s just that the film is perhaps excessively oriented toward holding the attention of Discovery Channel viewers.

  11. David Marjanović says

    с нашими российскими коллегами

    Incidentally, this part means “with our Russian colleages”. Also, it talks about national rather than ethnic Russians, though that’s probably better actually.

  12. Thanks, David, that’s exactly the kind of fundamental mistake that seems to occur with those computer translations. It’s back to the drawing board, though, if I can’t call them goats. I thought of ‘Horned, sheep-like vegetarians’, but it seems too long-winded and it too could be taken the wrong way by the over-sensitive.

  13. I thought it was interesting how they kept on saying “Well, we’re not interested in the music/ dancing/rituals, we just want to hear the language”. A message to the director of the documentary, perhaps?
    If you click on “Watch similar videos” (or something like that) after watching it, you can watch an additional ten minutes on three other languages on what I imagine is a DVD extra

  14. bruessel says

    AJP, I cannot believe that you would actually consider trusting a computer translation.
    By the way, the German word for goat (Ziege) can also be used in a pejorative way, only for a woman though, often in conjunction with an adjective like old or stupid.

  15. marie-lucie says

    In Occitan there is an expression meaning literally “… will make me become a goat”, the equivalent of “… will drive me crazy”.

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