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Off topic: who is the most multilingual?
Thread poster: Will Matter
Will Matter  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:49
English
+ ...
Sep 3, 2003

Just curious and not even sure if anyone can or will be able to answer this question BUT i would like to see what kind of answers i get. I am doing research (for free) on polyglots and compiling the information as part of a related project on second/third/fourth etc. language acquisition. If we accept as a 'benchmark' the ability to speak with reasonable conversational proficiency i.e. not overly technical, not doing consecutive interpreting but able to function fairly well in a given language environment then who do you know or have heard of that speaks/spoke a larger-than-usual number of languages and how many do/did they speak?

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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 16:49
German to English
Well, I'd start with Sir Peter Ustinov Sep 3, 2003

"Internationally renowned actor, author, playwright and producer Sir Peter Ustinov has been the President of the World Federalist Movement since 1991. A true world citizen, Sir Peter is part Russian, German, French and Italian, and speaks at least six languages."

He speaks 8 languages, 6 fluently.

Some of his quotes (I love this guy):

If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done.
Peter Ustinov (1921 - )

In America, through pressure of conformity, there is freedom of choice, but nothing to choose from.
Peter Ustinov (1921 - )

I'm convinced there's a small room in the attic of the Foreign Office where future diplomats are taught to stammer.
Peter Ustinov (1921 - )


[Edited at 2003-09-03 15:49]


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Will Matter  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:49
English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Danke, you've started it, let's see what others have to say Sep 3, 2003

sylvie malich wrote:

"Internationally renowned actor, author, playwright and producer Sir Peter Ustinov has been the President of the World Federalist Movement since 1991. A true world citizen, Sir Peter is part Russian, German, French and Italian, and speaks at least six languages."


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:49
German to Italian
+ ...
How interesting! Sep 3, 2003

Thanks for posting this interesting thread. Just some weeks ago I was wondering if the Guinness book of records mentions the human being speaking the highest number of languages. I looked up in the website but could find nothing. The problem is, how can you define "speaking"? How can you tell a fair knowledge of a foreign language from a basic knowledge (maybe just understanding simple texts, without actually being able to speak or write)? Moreover, how can you tell languages from dialects (maybe spoken by millions of people in large cities) and from varieties of the same language (British and US English, just to give an example)? I think if these "parameters" were clearly defined, there could be such a record in the Guinness book.

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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:49
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
It's been discussed before. Sep 3, 2003

Take a look at this topic:
http://www.proz.com/?sp=bb/viewtopic&post=46719#46719


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Cilian O'Tuama
Local time: 16:49
German to English
+ ...
Living persons only? Sep 3, 2003

The German archaeologist Heinrich Schlieman supposedly spoke 12-15 languages. And a fat lot of good it did him

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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:49
German to Italian
+ ...
just 8 languages?? Sep 3, 2003

Jack Doughty wrote:

Take a look at this topic:
http://www.proz.com/?sp=bb/viewtopic&post=46719#46719[/quote]

So Mr Ustinov was just an amateur compared to these guys! Well, I'm not even that

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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:19
English to Tamil
+ ...
Israeli judge who delivered Eichmann judgement Sep 3, 2003

I distinctly remember having read that the Israeli judge, Benjamin Halevi slipped effortlessly into 6 languages one after another while delivering the Eichmann judgement. For the life of me I can't get any googlr reference to this incident, which however happened. This judge was my role model. I speak 5 languages very fluently but seeing the numbers being quoted here, I feel very inadequate.

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Timothy Barton
Local time: 16:49
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Speaker of nine languages! Sep 3, 2003

The wife of the pastor of the church I attended when living in Paris can speak nine languages. She is of Indian origin (English plus four Indian languages, Danish nationality and married to a Frenchman. She also speaks German and I'm not sure what the other two are. She also claims to understand the other Scandinavian languages (I assume excluding Finnish). Well I'm now up to four, so maybe one day I'll catch her up!

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sevinc altincekic  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:49
English to Turkish
+ ...
William James Sidis Sep 3, 2003

Some time ago I came across this man who is said to have an IQ of 250-300.

Look at:
http://www.quantonics.com/The_Prodigy_Review.html

Under the section of his extraordinary capabilities and accomplishments these two are the ones related to this topic:
31. Billy could learn a whole language in one day!
32. Billy knew all the languages (approximately 200) of the world, and could translate among them instantly!

Amazing isn't it:)


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Jonathan Sanders  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:49
7 languages Sep 3, 2003

I would say a friend of mine in Spain is very multilingual.

She's native in Catalan and Spanish. She changed her citizenship to be French, so she also speaks French. She lived in London for 2 years, where she improved her English, and now speaks on a practically native level. She learned Danish after living there for several years. She also speaks German (but she says her German isn't that good). And one other language that I can't remember.

I would say that her main strategy was direct exposure--she basically just moved around Europe for her whole life.


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:49
German to Italian
+ ...
?? Sep 3, 2003

sevinc altincekic wrote:

31. Billy could learn a whole language in one day!
32. Billy knew all the languages (approximately 200) of the world, and could translate among them instantly!

Amazing isn't it:)


I just can't believe this kind of thing, that sounds like sci-fi or so By the way, there are much more languages in the world (about 6000, if I'm not wrong)


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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 10:49
SITE FOUNDER
Giuseppe Caspar Cardinal Mezzofanti ? Sep 3, 2003

Quote: "This website is named after the greatest of all students of foreign languages, Giuseppe Caspar Cardinal Mezzofanti. Although specific estimates vary, historians generally agree that Cardinal Mezzofanti spoke around 38 languages and 50 dialects fluently, and spoke many other languages with less fluency. With this amazing ability in language learning, Mezzofanti holds the world record for multi-lingual fluency, and is considered the greatest polyglot in history"

Among his languages: biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean, Coptic, Armenian, ancient and modern, Persian, Turkish, Albanian, Maltese, Greek, ancient and modern, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, English, Illyrian, Russian, Polish, Bohemian, Magyar, Chinese, Syriac, Gees, Amharic, Hindustani, Guzerati, Basque, Wallachian, and Californian.


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Said Kaljanac a.k.a. SARAJ  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 16:49
Bosnian to French
+ ...
My teachers and myself Sep 3, 2003

I had a teacher of world dialectology and linguistics, he is French speaker, he teaches also Spanish in the University for translators and he is expert in Persian. I've heard him having a conversation in Russian with a friend of mine. It is rumoured that he speaks 25 languages among which French, English, Persian, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Dutch, and I don't know what other languages.

I had another teacher in the same university teaching "encyclopedia of the translation" and Spanish. He speaks around seven languages: Spanish, English, French, Arabic, Italian, Dutch, maybe Russian.

And I don't like mentioning my case, but I have to admit that I speak fluently five languages: French, English, Bosnian (Serbian and Croatian included as part of one language + some dialects), Russian and Dutch. I can read Arabic , Korean and one of Japanese alphabets (hiragana; am still studying katakana and kanji ).
In addition thanks to the knowledge of all those slavic languages and having studied also linguistics and dialectology I can understand reasonably well a dozen of languages (but I cannot speak them): Slovene, Byelorussian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Czech, Slovak, and a little bit of German and Italian + some of Dutch Flemish dialects.

SARAJ

[Edited at 2003-09-03 23:47]


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Subhamay Ray  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:19
English to Bengali
+ ...
An Indian polyglot! Sep 4, 2003

No one yet has spoken of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=61443 or James Crichton http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=28336. Let me also add to this list the name of one Indian polyglot, the “Mezzofanti of India”, Harinath De (1877-1911). Harinath had mastered most European languages including Greek, Latin, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, French and German besides occidental languages like Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Arabic and Persian as well as many Indian languages.

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