The Linguistics of 'Arrival': aliens, fieldwork and universal grammar

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.

Linguistics professor Jessica Coon, scientific consultant for the linguistics in the film 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––and how much any of this will help us at first contact.

Join the Business Professions and Government Division on this online event and learn about:

  • the goals of the field of linguistics, with a focus on syntax (sentence structure), and cross-linguistic variation,
  • the importance of global language diversity and the role of linguistics and linguistic fieldwork in language documentation
  • the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in relation to the film Arrival.


April 16th, 2021 4:00 PM   to   5:30 PM
Online event
Events +
Event image

BPG Division