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Off topic: who is the most multilingual?
Thread poster: Will Matter

Said Kaljanac a.k.a. SARAJ  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 20:58
Bosnian to French
+ ...
Amazing! Sep 12, 2003

Henry wrote:

willmatter wrote:

I WAS going to ask this question yesterday also but was a little afraid of 'opening a can of worms'/starting something that might not end, buuuut, since someone else brought it up...:) I wonder if there IS any way to accurately determine this given that we are a highly diverse community of 51K people (more or less) who are, by definition, multilingual. Maybe a moderator or Henry can tell us, maybe not. By the way, i have received *numerous* responses to this question, including lots of email and may publish a brief synopsis of the results once everyone has had a chance to respond. At this point the bench mark for members is 6 languages or above, so if you speak this many or more and care to respond with details or comments, please feel free.
Lorenzo Lilli wrote:

By the way, who's the best polyglot in proz? Please be honest and don't just show off!


I have no idea who is the most poly of the glots here, but one person who comes to mind as passionate about monolingualism is Peter Wright of Wright Translation:

http://www.proz.com/translators/10751 http://www.wrighttranslation.com/peterwright.htm

Perhaps there are others at ProZ.com with similar interest or abilities. I noticed Peter only because we have met in person.



It's simply amazing! I admire people like that. They've been / are always a good example for me.


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Araksia Sarkisian  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 20:58
Armenian to Polish
+ ...
Armenian (60 dialects) and 562 languages of the world... Sep 16, 2003

Henry wrote:
....Cardinal Mezzofanti spoke around 38 languages and 50 dialects fluently....
...Among his languages: biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean, Coptic, Armenian, ancient and modern, Persian....etc.


One of the greatest Armenian scholars and scientists - academician Hrachia ACHARIAN (born in Constantinople in 1876,studied in Paris and Strasbourgh Universities, from 1922 - professor of Yerevan State University, died in 1953,)is the author of the Comprehensive Grammar of the Armenian language in comparison with the 562 (!) languages of the world.
This historic (4 vol.) work of a famous linguist and philologist is still a rare tool and basic assistance for many researchers and linguists all over the world.

Among his other main significant works are:

1. The two volume History of the Armenian language (he wrote it between 1940 and 1951).
2. Dictionary of root words in Armenian language (1925 - 1935), in 7 vol.
3. Dictionary of Armenian names (1942 - 1948 ), in 4 vol.
4. Dictionary of Armenian dialects (1913).

Armenian language has more than 60 dialects!

So, one can imagine, what a tremendous job did this scholar in his life! He paid a high price for his scientific contribution: at the end of his life, he almost lost his eyesight.

Many generations of Armenian students and linguists still use his legacy.

There is a HRACHIA ACHARIAN UNIVERSITY in Erevan now.

Interesting, isn't it?

Thank you for this interesting discussion, though...:)))




[Edited at 2003-09-16 23:00]

[Edited at 2003-09-16 23:22]


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:58
Member
English to Turkish
The most multilingual ordinary* soul I personally know Sep 17, 2003

is my friend and former neighbor Ivetta Ovnatovna. Her native languages are Russian and Armenian, but according to her husband (whose mother tongue is Kurdish, and who can speak Russian, Serbian, Croation, Georgian in addition to his terrible German) she also has "better than him"-native command of Kurdish. Ivetta also speaks Georgian very fluently, and though she claims that she doesn't speak English, it was the language of our communication for many months when I first came to Germany. No need to say she speaks German, and she also has a passive command of French. By the way, her German is fluent and correct, but as she learned it in her late 30s she naturally has a heavy accent. On the other hand, she speaks Russian, Armenian, Georgian and Kurdish without an accent according to the/other native speakers of these languages, at least.

I also appreciate the linguistic capability of another friend of mine who lives in the Netherlands and has a native command of three languages: Turkish, Kurdish, Dutch, in addition to his satisfactory level of English and poor German. Well, you can say that everybody in the Netherlands speaks three languages, but those are mostly Dutch, English and German, all closely related in vocabulary and grammatical structure. This gentleman has native command of three languages none of which is related to the other in any way.

I remember a Belgian linguist, too, that I saw on TV years ago. His Turkish was perfectly fluent, and he was said to have an either passive or active command of all Turkish dialects, Turkic languages, plus Ottoman. Well, it makes something like a dozen, I guess, not to mention his English and of course native language (I don't remember if it was Flemish or French, but hey! maybe both). Unfortunately, I cannot yet find any info on this guy to document this. But you can take my word
________

* Ordinary means "not an extraordinary genius" though having an intelligence well above average, obviously, and it might mean "not even a cardinal" as well. Also, I have to say that I put a tiny particle of salt on the tip of my tongue before taking at face value the info given about people that speak 38, or 60, or... 200 (huh?!) languages *fluently*. Come on! There is a limit to the capacity of human brain (unless you say you're talking about angels, but not human beings), how can one have "a fluent command" of let alone 30, of even 10 languages? (And there IS a limit to human lifetime, if we remember that fluency in a language is closely related to living where that language is spoken - can you imagine someone who has spent enough time in, say, 30 countries?) If what you mean is being able to hold conversations like "Hello, how are you? I am fine thanks. Please tell my best regards to your wife. I am working as an engineer. Paris is the capital of France. How much are these shoes, please?" ... well, some time ago I was able to say all these in Spanish, for instance, learned in a week, and forgot the other week. Are you really sure about these people, or is my horizon too narrow?


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Will Matter  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:58
English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
some people do Sep 17, 2003

I generally agree with your comments regarding the limits of multilingualism but according to my research there ARE a few, rare people who actually can speak 15-30 languages fairly well. They tend to have certain common characteristics which i will list. They tend to be raised bi-or tri-lingually OR raised in an environment where a *basic* knowledge of four or more languages is essential, or at least very useful, to daily survival. They tend to have a high linguistic aptitude coupled with plenty of opportunities to use/practice what they already know along with enough exposure to improve/learn more. After that, they often have a very natural tendency to either go into language-related work or to acquire other languages through study/travel/both and, last but not least, they tend to spend 20/30/40 or more years doing it SO, once in awhile, someone will come along who actually does have a good working knowledge of 20 or so languages. Rare, i'll admit, but not impossible.
Xola wrote:

is my friend and former neighbor Ivetta Ovnatovna. Her native languages are Russian and Armenian, but according to her husband (whose mother tongue is Kurdish, and who can speak Russian, Serbian, Croation, Georgian in addition to his terrible German) she also has "better than him"-native command of Kurdish. Ivetta also speaks Georgian very fluently, and though she claims that she doesn't speak English, it was the language of our communication for many months when I first came to Germany. No need to say she speaks German, and she also has a passive command of French. By the way, her German is fluent and correct, but as she learned it in her late 30s she naturally has a heavy accent. On the other hand, she speaks Russian, Armenian, Georgian and Kurdish without an accent according to the/other native speakers of these languages, at least.

I also appreciate the linguistic capability of another friend of mine who lives in the Netherlands and has a native command of three languages: Turkish, Kurdish, Dutch, in addition to his satisfactory level of English and poor German. Well, you can say that everybody in the Netherlands speaks three languages, but those are mostly Dutch, English and German, all closely related in vocabulary and grammatical structure. This gentleman has native command of three languages none of which is related to the other in any way.

I remember a Belgian linguist, too, that I saw on TV years ago. His Turkish was perfectly fluent, and he was said to have an either passive or active command of all Turkish dialects, Turkic languages, plus Ottoman. Well, it makes something like a dozen, I guess, not to mention his English and of course native language (I don't remember if it was Flemish or French, but hey! maybe both). Unfortunately, I cannot yet find any info on this guy to document this. But you can take my word
________

* Ordinary means "not an extraordinary genius" though having an intelligence well above average, obviously, and it might mean "not even a cardinal" as well. Also, I have to say that I put a tiny particle of salt on the tip of my tongue before taking at face value the info given about people that speak 38, or 60, or... 200 (huh?!) languages *fluently*. Come on! There is a limit to the capacity of human brain (unless you say you're talking about angels, but not human beings), how can one have "a fluent command" of let alone 30, of even 10 languages? (And there IS a limit to human lifetime, if we remember that fluency in a language is closely related to living where that language is spoken - can you imagine someone who has spent enough time in, say, 30 countries?) If what you mean is being able to hold conversations like "Hello, how are you? I am fine thanks. Please tell my best regards to your wife. I am working as an engineer. Paris is the capital of France. How much are these shoes, please?" ... well, some time ago I was able to say all these in Spanish, for instance, learned in a week, and forgot the other week. Are you really sure about these people, or is my horizon too narrow?


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:58
Member
English to Turkish
I trust your input, if my trust will matter ;-) Sep 17, 2003

willmatter wrote:

I generally agree with your comments regarding the limits of multilingualism but according to my research there ARE a few, rare people who actually can speak 15-30 languages fairly well. They tend to have certain common characteristics which i will list. They tend to be raised bi-or tri-lingually OR raised in an environment where a *basic* knowledge of four or more languages is essential, or at least very useful, to daily survival. They tend to have a high linguistic aptitude coupled with plenty of opportunities to use/practice what they already know along with enough exposure to improve/learn more. After that, they often have a very natural tendency to either go into language-related work or to acquire other languages through study/travel/both and, last but not least, they tend to spend 20/30/40 or more years doing it SO, once in awhile, someone will come along who actually does have a good working knowledge of 20 or so languages. Rare, i'll admit, but not impossible.




and after all, the first two people I mention above fit in the category of being raised up in bi- and even tri-lingual environments. Ivetta lived in Russia, Armenia, Georgia, and then in Germany where she came at adult age; the other friend of mine was born in a Kurdish family in Turkey, learned Turkish at school, and settled in Holland at the age of 17 - might be considered a bit late to acquire an accent-free command though, but he has lived in a Dutch-speaking environment almost exclusively.

Also it should be noted that the Belgian gentleman whose name I cannot remember, speaks about a dozen languages and/or dialects which are all closely related - except for Ottoman (his knowledge of this last one was at an expert level as far as I remember, and this suggests that he could have been into Arabic and Persian at any time ) It's not difficult to acquire a certain command of closely related languages. For example, being a native Turkish speaker, I can roughly understand Azerbaijani, and I think I can start speaking and writing it after a serious work of few months, which would otherwise be impossibly short a time to learn a new language for someone at the age 19 (hehheheee ! ok, ok, you can add 21 on it ) Let alone Azerbaijani, I can even understand some Dutch with my very inadequate German. (BTW I am not trying to say that these pairs are in fact the same languages. They are not, of course, but are closely related. Causing a nationalist discussion here is the last thing I would want.) Likewise, as a well-known fact, if you speak one Scandinavian language, it would be much easier to learn another. Therefore, I believe this factor should be taken into account with people who speak 10 something languages.

Also, I insist on my doubts about people "having an excellent / perfect / native whatever command of a dozen languages". True, being an ordinary immortal I cannot bear with the fact that there are geniuses in our planet. But although one can speak 20 or so languages at varying degrees, I don't believe that one can have a native command of more than 2 or 3. Surrounded by a bunch of kids all the time who are nominally bilingual, but who make me worry that they can end up being alingual with the slightest loosening of conscious efforts, I know how hard-acquired and how fragile a native command can be. Also, I think that people who speak a dozen languages may have a command of each one of them in a limited area. Take the Vatican clergy, for instance, each of whom speak so many languages, we are told. Cardinal X might be able to make religious discussions in English, but I doubt he can follow the dialogues in an American soap opry. So maybe we first need to define so loosely-used terms such as "native command", "perfect / native fluency", "proficiency", "working command of a language" etc., etc. Or, should we ask: what the heck is the command of a language?



[Edited at 2003-09-17 21:06]

[Edited at 2005-03-09 03:31]


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Shloimo Teplitskiy
United States
Local time: 14:58
English to Russian
+ ...
Ahatanhel Krymskyy Dec 12, 2004

There was a famous Ukrainian philologist, Ahatanhel Krymskyy/ Агатангел Кримський (1871-1942) who is said to have spoken over 60 languages fluently.

I got this from "Історія української мови: Хрестоматія, 1996."


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Troy Fowler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:58
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
Californian? Dec 13, 2004

Henry wrote:

....Bohemian, Magyar, Chinese, Syriac, Gees, Amharic, Hindustani, Guzerati, Basque, Wallachian, and Californian.


Dude! There's a language call "Californian"!?? Sweeeeeeeet.


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Yoanna  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:58
English to Polish
+ ...
Whoever it is... Jan 3, 2005

...will find this job offer suitable

http://jobsearch.monster.com/getjob.asp?JobID=25612690&AVSDM=2004-12-07%2009:01:00&Logo=1&col=dltci&cy=US&brd=1,1862,1863&lid=&fn=&q=translator


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Ramon Somoza  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:58
Member (2002)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
Just barely... Jan 5, 2005

willmatter wrote:

I WAS going to ask this question yesterday also but was a little afraid of 'opening a can of worms'/starting something that might not end, buuuut, since someone else brought it up...:) I wonder if there IS any way to accurately determine this given that we are a highly diverse community of 51K people (more or less) who are, by definition, multilingual. Maybe a moderator or Henry can tell us, maybe not. By the way, i have received *numerous* responses to this question, including lots of email and may publish a brief synopsis of the results once everyone has had a chance to respond. At this point the bench mark for members is 6 languages or above, so if you speak this many or more and care to respond with details or comments, please feel free.
Lorenzo Lilli wrote:

By the way, who's the best polyglot in proz? Please be honest and don't just show off!


If you count my lousy Italian (which I don't translate), I'd reach the 6 languages benchmark. My fluent languages are: Spanish, English, French, German, Dutch/Flemish (note that I do not differentiate between the last two, the differences are IMHO so minor that you cannot call them separate languages).

I also studied one year of Russian and Arabian at the Official Language School (had to discontinue it), but I cannot say I speak those.

However, my father also speaks Russian, so that's 7 languages.
I have 3 brothers and 3 sisters - they ALL speak fluently 5 languages. My mother however only speaks Spanish.

Oh, and when I lived in the Netherlands, I shortly dated a Norwegian girl that spoke fluently... 8 languages!

[Edited at 2005-01-05 15:58]


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