How the movie Arrival made the linguist’s office
For the film, the linguistic consultants included Jessica Coon, Lisa deMena Travis, and Morgan Sonderegger, all from McGill. The set designers spent time with Travis and Coon in their offices and ended up borrowing many of their books, as well as reproducing other items from their offices, in order to create the office set.
Via e-mail, Coon writes:
The set crew came to my office first and took a lot of pictures (they liked my tea kettle and plants, and they wanted to know what kind of bag I carry). They needed to rent a certain number of feet of books, but I didn’t have enough, so we went up to Lisa’s office. I keep a fairly tidy office… they liked Lisa’s much better. […]
But Travis told me that the set designers were less interested in titles than colors: they were particularly interested in borrowing blue and beige books. Fortunately, she had plenty of both. Many of the blue ones are in the Linguistik Aktuell series from John Benjamins (Travis serves on the advisory editorial board). And she had lots of beige-colored journals (e.g., Language, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory,Linguistic Inquiry, Oceanic Linguistics) and conference proceedings (e.g., NELS, short for the North East Linguistic Society).
An article for McGill News interviews Jessica Coon about what she wrote on the whiteboard:
Sequences that take place in the code-breaking tent where military cryptographers struggle to crack the aliens’ language, feature words that Coon wrote on whiteboards to lend that process a more authentic air. Words like “articulators.”
The articulators that humans use to form speech include our tongue, teeth and lips. “[The aliens] don’t look human at all, their vocal tracts and their mouths or whatever they’re using to make language is nothing like ours,” says Coon. In a situation like that, the military experts would probably be thinking a lot about articulators.