A two-man mission to document the world’s endangered tongues becomes a fleet-footed study of human communication and its limitless structural and functional possibilities in “The Linguists.” Proceeding from the alarming reality that a language goes extinct every few weeks, this involving if somewhat scattershot travelogue sheds a well-intentioned light on how smaller native communities and their systems of speech are often marginalized by the dominant cultures around them. Cable-ready docu could easily be trimmed to a broadcast-friendly hourlong format and exported to viewers in any language.
Speaking an impressive combined total of 25 languages, David Harrison and Gregory Anderson make an engaging globe-trotting duo as they locate seven surviving speakers of Chulym in Siberia (two of whom had died by 2007); interact with speakers of the little-known Sora tongue in tribal India; and track down the few remaining Bolivians fluent in Kallawaya, a mysterious language linked to the practice of healing rites. Fascinating insights about the many uses and varieties of human communication — and the suppression of rural cultures by urban institutions such as boarding schools — compensate for pic’s routine ethnographic approach and sometimes too-swift editing. Tech package is OK.