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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus5 min read
The Deepest Uncertainty: When a hypothesis is neither true nor false.
Georg Cantor died in 1918 in a sanatorium in Halle, Germany. A pre-eminent mathematician, he had laid the foundation for the theory of infinite numbers in the 1870s. At the time, his ideas received hostile opposition from prominent mathematicians in
Nautilus5 min read
The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years
One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel—a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it “The Classi
Nautilus5 min read
Dark Matter Gets a Reprieve in New Analysis
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. The galactic center shines too brightly, like the glow of a metropolis at night where maps show only a town. To mend their cosmic cartography, astrophysicists have spent years debati