K. David Harrison

K. David Harrison, PhD

Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, VinUniversity

Professor, College of Arts and Sciences


Prof. Harrison earned his M.A. and PhD at Yale University. He is a National Geographic Society Explorer, a Fellow of the Explorer’s Club, a member of the Daylight Academy (Switzerland), and an honorary research associate at the New York Botanical Garden’s Center for Economic Botany. He used to work at Swarthmore College as Associate Provost for Academic Programs and Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science. Prof. Harrison is also a filmmaker. Throughout his career, and in his role as a National Geographic Explorer, Prof. Harrison has travelled the world to make films and write books on the topic of Endangered languages and Indigenous cultures. Some of his documentary films include the Emmy-nominated “The Linguists”, “One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage”, “Manx: Reviving a Language”; etc… His book “When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge” (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007) has been translated into Arabic and Spanish.

Anthropological & Environmental Linguistics; Language Endangerment and Revitalization; Digital Lexicography; Documentary filmmaking on indigenous cultures; Ethnography; Munda, Oceanic, TibetoBurman, Slavic, and Turkic languages & cultures, Cross-Cultural Communication.


1. Cuando Mueren las Lenguas: La extinción de los idiomas en el mundo y la erosion del conocimiento humano. Bogotá: Univ. de los Andes.
2. People of the World: Cultures and Traditions, Ancestry and Identity. (with C. H. Howell). Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
3. Horobi-yuku Gengo wo Hanasu Saigo no Hitobito. [The Last Speakers] Tokyo: Hara Shobo.
4. The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages. Washington, DC: National Geographic Books/Random House.
5. Indama tamut allughat: Inqirad Lughat alalam wa taakul alma’rifa alinsaniyah. [Arabic translation of When Languages Die]. Riyadh: King Saud University Press.
6. When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
7. Tuvan-English English-Tuvan Dictionary. Munich: Lincom-Europa.
8. Tyvan. Munich: Lincom-Europa


1. Manx: Reviving a Language. (documentary short film)
I visited the Isle of Man to document the emergence of a new generation of speakers of Manx, a language previously declared extinct, but now thriving. http://www.viki.com/videos/1061865v-manx-reviving-a-language
2. One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage. (exhibit & film)
I co-curated a major, exhibition at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC, for over 1 million visitors. Documentary film, website, and program book.
3. Hidden Language Revealed. (documentary short film)
This National Geographic short film chronicles my encounter with speakers of Koro, an ancient Himalayan language not previously known to science. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QjXGsUMD8U
4. The Linguists. (feature length documentary, theatrical and film festival screenings)
This Emmy-nominated film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2008, aired on PBS in 2009, and screened at film festivals around the world. It showcases my work with indigenous communities to document endangered languages of Native America, Siberia, India & Bolivia. Funded by an NSF Public Science Education grant.