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The linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, fieldwork, and Universal Grammar

Date & Time:
September 13, 2018 | 4:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Evans Room (Rozsa Centre)
Dr. Jessica Coon (CRC, Syntax & Indigenous Languages, McGill University) ... AND the linguistics consultant for the movie Arrival

Title: The linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, fieldwork, and Universal Grammar
Location: Evans Room (Rozsa Centre)

Abstract: 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 2016 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.

The event is free of charge and everyone is welcome to attend.  Registration is not necessary, but would be very much appreciated for catering purposes.


Please note, the Verbatim Undergraduate Society in Linguistics will likely be offering a free screening of the film Arrival, prior to this talk. Details forthcoming soon.


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.