These are not so much films that focus on a linguist as a person (e.g. Still Alice, 2014), but films whose subject is language or linguistics:
- Pygmalion (1938), My Fair Lady (1964), Pygmalion (1983): about pronunciation, social status and feelings
- Ball of Fire (1941): Should lexicographers also include colloquial language in their dictionaries … and where do they get it from?
- Camouflage (1977): In a summer school for linguists, proponents and opponents of the political system clash
- On Top of the Whale (Het dak van de Walvis) (1982): Chilean-Dutch parody about linguistic fieldwork in Patagonia: the language to be studied consists only of a single word
- Enemy Mine (1985): Learning the language of the other is a big step towards peaceful coexistence
- Nell (1994): About loneliness, language and speechlessness, distance and closeness
- Stargate (1994): How a linguist deciphers hieroglyphics and saves worlds
- Black and White (2002): It doesn’t make use all equal if everyone is forced to use the same language in court https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2dNK6Pmc8Q
- Youth without youth (2007): Thunder struck, time travel and languages from today back to Sumerian
- Arrival (2016): Sapir-Whorf hypothesis tested on aliens
- I dream in another language (Sueño en otro idioma) (2017): To whom do the last two speakers of a language speak when they no longer speak to each other?
Several documentary films show the daily work of linguists and explain their theories:
- The Linguists (2008): Two linguists talk with a lot of self-irony about their work documenting endangered languages in Siberia, Arizona, India and Bolivia
- The Grammar of Happiness (2012): Daniel Everett reports about his time with the Pirahã
- Is the man who is tall happy? (2013): An animated conversation with Noam Chomsky https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv66xFD7s7g
There are countless documentary films about language(s), here is just one full-length title
- Colours of the Alphabet (2016): On multilingualism in Africa and the dominance of English in the education system. Available in over 30 African languages, e.g. Kikuyu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2MAbP7WkO0
One topic that is often dealt with in films is sign language:
- Children of a Lesser God (1986): a romantic drama
- Beyond Silence (Jenseits der Stille) (1996): on being an interpreter between two worlds as hearing daughter of deaf parents
- Ishaare: Gestures and Signs in Mumbai (2015): documentary about Indian sign language
The classic among the films that focus on the figure of the interpreter is The Interpreter (2005). Films in which language mediation plays a central role include.
- Amistad (1997): When the translation in court becomes a matter of life and death
- The Mummy (1999): Even an Egyptologist can save the world from destruction by translating hieroglyphic texts
The documentary film The Whisperers (2004) shows simultaneous interpreters from the Nuremberg Trials until today
Even Netflix, AmazonPrime and other streaming providers now offer films in and about indigenous languages. A number of websites offer title lists of freely available (depending on the country – unfortunately often with geoblocking) or commercial films, e.g.:
- 10 movies in indigenous languages from Mexico: https://mxcity.mx/2019/08/10-peliculas-mexicanas-que-rescatan-las-lenguas-originarias/
- More than 10o movies in indigenous languages from Mexico:: Film Latino in the category Cultura Indígena https://www.filminlatino.mx/coleccion/cultura-indigena
Numerous videos on languages around the world are also stored in the Endangered Languages Archive (https://elar.soas.ac.uk/). The archive is freely searchable. To watch the videos or listen to the extensive audio material, you must register as a user. More archives and channels with footage on languages worldwide will be presented in the next article.
[With thanks to Martin Konvička’s Twitter list of linguistic films @TeapotLinguist and to the blog All Things Linguistic https://allthingslinguistic.com/post/612966341263179776/a-very-long-list-of-linguistics-movies by Gretchen McCulloch]