Although I’ve always loved (/obsessed over) languages, for a long time I fought the decision to become a linguist, partially because I was certain that to be a linguist in the US in the 21st century meant that you mostly sat around talking about the brain and Universal Grammar. Nowadays I find those things interesting too, but at the time I worried that the life of a linguist revolves around Language, with a capital L, as a singular phenomenon, and what I was really interested in was languages, lower-case l, plural, the whole lavish variety of tongues that real humans speak and write.
Then I stumbled upon this little 60-minute documentary called The Linguists.
I’ve always daydreamed about the expeditions anthropologists take, disappearing into the jungles of Papua New Guinea or a remote village in Bangladesh. To know that you could do that kind of fieldwork as a linguist, that your job can be not just analyst but ethnographer, AND that you can put your skills to work for the cause of human diversity (and, to my mind, social justice)…that made up my mind pretty fast.
The movie used to be up on Netflix streaming, and isn’t any more unfortunately, but if you ever get the chance I highly recommend it. If you want to learn more about what these personal heroes of mine are up to, please take a look at their nonprofit, the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, and their National Geographic project, Enduring Voices.