Weeks 118 and 119: A linguist’s perspective – A sci-fi film, Arrival

I’ve been staying in Tokyo for my holiday. It was lovely that we had the cherry blossoms at their best in Tokyo last weekend.

My current work is compiling transcripts for my analysis chapter. This includes listening to audio data and looking at transcripts closely, repeatedly and persistently. This is something of a mechanical process. While searching on linguistic methodology, I have just come across some web pages about what the linguistic perspective looks like in a film, Arrival. It was very interesting and overlaps with my work of interpreting data.


How a linguist works in Arrival

A sci-fi film from 2016, Arrival brought the study of linguistics to the public’s attention. The story tells of how a linguist and a physicist team up to translate an alien language.

I love the details in the film which represent how linguists think, react and work, and how they conduct their linguistic fieldwork – even what a linguist’s office looks like (exactly looks like my supervisor’s)! Louise (played by Amy Adams) and Ian (Jeremy Renner) work in the ‘field’ to decode the aliens’ communication system.

In my research, I’ve been looking at health professionals’ and patients’ utterances in a grammar system. At the early stage of my analysis, I paid more attention to the professionals’, but I’ve noticed how important it is to see how and why a patient decides to tell or not to tell the professional something. Interpreting the data is the hardest part; that’s why I listen repeatedly for the tone of voice, intonation, speed, macro pauses and silence.

In the film, Louise is under great pressure to get things right; likewise, I feel great pressure on myself to be accurate… but I’ve often misunderstood things and have had to work during my holidays to make up for a lost time. All of these processes have been very enjoyable for me.

Louise eventually decides to have her child, even though she knows what the consequence will be. Her choice was not to change the future. I think we all, to some extent, know intuitively what would happen next. Even though we hope for happiness and better results, ‘fate’ is so powerful. We might choose not to change our destiny just as eagerly as we wish to change it.


Inokashira Park in Musashino City, Tokyo


My achievements in Weeks 118 and 119

  • work on my transcripts and analysis for Chapter 5
  • having sorted out some business stuff

Goals for Week 120

  • spend a week with my mum on a Japanese island