Nautilus

The Scientist Who Helped Amy Adams Talk to Aliens in “Arrival”

Earlier this year, when Amy Adams was in Montreal working on the sci-fi movie, Arrival, out today, she hung out with linguist Jessica Coon. In the film, Adams plays a linguist tasked by the United States government with deciphering a visiting aliens’ language. The film’s producers tapped Coon, an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics at McGill University, as a scientific advisor because she specializes in studying languages spoken by relatively few people, notably Mayan tongues in Central America. Coon says chatting about her work—analyzing the structure of rare languages, working in the field—with Adams is probably the “most glamorous thing” she will ever do in her academic life.

For Coon there’s a sense of urgency in her work, since many obscure languages are fast going extinct. She thinks that if linguists don’t analyze the rarer languages of the world’s 6,000 while they still can

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