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The Linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, Fieldwork, and Universal Grammar

Mon, 12/11 · 12:00 pm1:30 pm · 144 Louis A. Simpson International Building

Jessica Coon, McGill University

The Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication

If aliens arrived, could we communicate with them? How would we do it? What are the tools linguists use to decipher unknown languages? How different can human languages be from one another? Do these differences have bigger consequences for how we see the world?

The recent science-fiction film Arrival touches on these and other real questions in the field of linguistics. In Arrival, linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to translate the language of the newly-arrived Heptapods in order to answer the question everyone wants to know: why are they here? Language, it turns out, is a crucial piece of the answer.

Jessica Coon, science consultant for the linguistics in Arrival, has never worked with an alien, but will discuss her own fieldwork on Mayan languages, and what these languages can tell us about linguistic diversity and Universal Grammar.

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