[28 April 2011]
People speak. People with degrees study speech. The fact that human beings possess language and their tendency to reflect on that fact constitute a defining characteristic of the species. Two very different films revealed light and dark aspects of homo loquens. Anne Makepeace’s We Still Live Here won the Full Frame Inspiration Award. We went to the film because we had barged into Ms. Makepeace’s cab on the way from the airport and she convinced us to check it out.
The film relates to one of the big unsung issues of the modern world: language extinction. They say another language becomes extinct every two weeks. Newspapers routinely run articles, buried deep in the folds, on the deaths of “last speakers”. Linguists race around the world trying to record their final gasps. We Still Live Here features a rare instance of language revival. The Wampanoag on Cape Cod (yes, those who greeted the pilgrims) had not had a native speaker of their language for 100 years.
Then Jessie Little Doe started having dreams about people speaking in a foreign language, realized the language was her indigenous tongue, and set about a revival project. The story is fascinating, in part because there is a Jurassic Park aspect to the way she uses old documents regarding land claims written in Wampanoag and an old Bible translation to reconstruct a living language. The DNA buried in the very instruments used to steal land and suppress culture comes back to life. Inspiration is a good award for and description of this film.