Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indiana Jones and the inaccurate depiction of pre-Columbian America

       Quite to my surprise, I found out that the new Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull movie which premieres in the US tomorrow, opened here today, so I got to see it at one fifth the price of what it would have been back in the states... and free arabic subtitles to boot.  
   Some of the linguistic aspects of the movie were a bit laughable to be honest.  First there was the combination of ancient Mayan and modern Quechua, which are not from the same areas at all.  They seemed to be intending to mix the Norte Chico civilization of the 3rd millenium BC with the Incan empire (both of Peru), and then throwing in some random meso-american nonsense (is this where they got the strange alien connection).  There doesn't seem to be any record of a pre-Incan (written) language, despite the fact that the Andes were one of the world's 6 indigenous developments of civilization.  The stereotypical quest for El Dorado reminded me of the strange and dare I say creepy Werner Herzog film "Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes" (Wrath of God).  

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Triglossia, and cinematic linguistics

Enough of this "diglossia" business, I want something a little more challenging.  Let's try "tri-" !
Actually, while I was thinking about the whole diglossia issue a month ago with my friend in Switzerland, we shot a short film called "Anatomy of a decision" in which three characters act out the internal "monologue" of an individual whose will, reason, and emotions are debating... in three different languages of course.  You can see it here.  The quality is not great so it is tough to see what is going on visually, but the figures (all of them played by me) are supposed to appear as hollow mesh mannequins hovering over a brook.  They are conversing (trilingually) about whether they should answer the phone call that was just made.  My favorite line was that of the emotions, saying (in Spanish):  "Or maybe it's the police asking me to identify a body at the morgue!" 
     But enough tooting of my own horn... I have been meaning to do a little movie review of "The Linguists" which I saw the UK premiere of at SOAS just last week in London, with commentary and Q&A by Swarthmore prof David Harrison.  David said the inspiration for the film was the feeling of a couple Jewish filmmakers that Yiddish was dying.  When they realized actually it wasn't, they decided to try to do a movie on some languages that actually were.
Here is a further convo with David about dying languages:

I thought the Bolivian language Kallawaya was the most interesting (and in true praeteritian fashion I will gloss over the appalling fact that though David and Greg claim to speak 33 languages between them, they don't know spanish!). The Kallawaya language, which even Bolivian linguists believed to be dead, or absorbed into Quechua, is actually passed down only through transmission from Adult-male medicine men to adolescent male trainees. I am not sure what one would call this sort of unnatural language transmission, but it reminds me of Lameen's observation about Kwarandzie, that it is only learned in adolescence, and only used in certain social situations (and I guess football matches and occult healing ceremonies are both frenzied religious experiences in a manner of speaking).  So the question is what does one call that kind of language acquisition, where no "native speakers" learn the language from birth? Any suggestions?  Could they be "latent languages," or "teenanguages," to take the portmanteau a bit further?