Logograms and Linguists: Logograms and Linguistics: An Analysis of the Figure of the Translator in Arrival


  • Anna-Beth Seemungal Simon Fraser University


Topic2, Arrival, Villeneuve, Denis, Cronin, Michael, Other, Outsider, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Logograms


When it comes to the representation of the theme of translation in global cinema, Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 Oscar-nominated film Arrival provides one of the most insightful and entertaining depictions of the figure of the translator. Arrival is more than just another alien film because its conflict is rooted in the concept of being ‘lost in translation’. The film’s tension diffuses only once a solution has been ‘found’ through proper translation of the aliens’ written language. Here the figure of the translator, represented by the character of Louise Banks, is called to interact closely with aliens who represent the “Other”. This raises the question, “To what degree does the translator become “Other” through the art of translation?”. While Louise does not exactly fit into the category of “Other”, she does experience forms of othering and becomes an “Outsider” through the process of translation. By analyzing Louise’s approach to translation, method of thinking, view and relation to language, this paper aims to show how the film suggests that being an Other or an Outsider can actually be an asset when it comes to translating, which coincidentally emphasizes the film’s call for openness rather than hostility toward otherness.