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List of polyglots

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A polyglot is a person with a command of many languages.[1] A polyglot may also be called a multilingual person; the label "multilingual" is used for communities as well as individual speakers.

Richard Hudson, professor emeritus of linguistics at University College London, coined the term "hyperpolyglot" for a person who can speak twelve or more languages fluently.[2][3] Other scholars apply the label to speakers of even more languages: twelve, sixteen, or in the most extreme cases, even fifty or more.[4]

It is difficult to judge which individuals are polyglots, as there is no uncontroversial definition for what it means to "master" a language, and because it is not always clear where to distinguish a dialect from a language. Being able to communicate in a language does not mean the person has "mastered" a language. There are far fewer who have attained higher levels of multi-linguistic skill, and there is no basis for testing those levels, or at least those levels of ability have not been noted here.

This list consists of people who have been noted in news media, historical texts, or academic work as speaking five or more languages fluently. For general discussion of the phenomenon, including discussion of polyglot savants, see polyglotism.

Notable living polyglots

The 2012 book Babel No More[5] by Michael Erard highlights some polyglots around the globe, including Alexander Argüelles. Canada's Global TV also brought out a piece on hyperpolyglots on their 16x9 show, entitled "Word Play",[6] featuring Canadian polyglots Axel Van Hout, Alexandre Coutu, Steven Kaufmann, James Chang and Keith Swayne. Tim Doner (US) and Richard Simcott (UK) also appear in the programme to describe their experiences speaking multiple languages.

Africa

Americas

  • Alexander Argüelles is an American polyglot. He speaks around a dozen languages and has a reading knowledge of many more. He was profiled in Michael Erard's Babel No More.[11]
  • Andrew Divoff is an Venezuelan actor and producer polyglot. He fluently speaks eight languages: English, Spanish, Italian, French, Catalan, Russian, German, and Portuguese. He used to speak a ninth language, Romanian, but he forgot the language when he had no one with whom to speak it.[12]
  • Édgar Ramírez, Venezuelan actor and former journalist. He fluently speaks six languages: Spanish, English, Italian, French, and German, and Portuguese.[13]
  • Pope Francis, in addition to his native Spanish, speaks fluent Italian (the official language of Vatican City and the "everyday language" of the Holy See), German (quarter),[14] French (average),[15] Portuguese[16] and English (quarter),[17][18] is conversant in Latin (the official language of the Holy See), and he understands the Piedmontese language and some Genoese.[19]
  • Powell Janulus (born 1939) is a notable living polyglot, also known as "the most fluent person on earth." In 1985, Powell Janulus was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for fluency in forty-two languages.
  • Melania Trump (Melania Knauss), Slovene-American former model and the current First Lady of the United States. She speaks English, French, Italian, German, Serbo-Croatian and her native Slovene.[20]
  • Henry Lau is a Canadian singer, rapper, dancer, composer, record producer, beatboxer, actor and entertainer mostly active in South Korea. He is quintilingual. Aside from speaking native English, Lau is also fluent in Mandarin, Korean, French and Cantonese.[21]
  • Naphtali D. Brooks is an American actor, model and comedian. He speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Galician and Catalan.[22][23]

Asia

  • Jackson Wang is a Chinese singer, rapper and dancer from Hong Kong and a member of Got7. He speaks Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, English, Shanghainese, Japanese and basic French.[24]
  • Asin is an Indian actress who can speak Malayalam (her mother-tongue), Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, English and French. She speaks some Marathi, Italian, Spanish and German.[25]
  • Ambassador Naela Chohan is a polyglot, artist, and current Ambassador of Pakistan to Australia and former Ambassador of Pakistan for Latin America. She is fluent in 7 Indo-European languages: English, French, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, Persian (acquired at age 35), and Spanish (acquired at age 51).
  • Jacqueline Fernandez is a Bahraini-born Sri Lankan Bollywood actress, former model, the winner of the Miss Sri Lanka Universe 2006. Due to her multi-ethnic background, she is fluent in English, Hindi, Urdu, Sinhala, and Tamil. She had also became fluent in Spanish and improved her Arabic and French.
  • George Fernandes, an Indian politician who is well-versed in ten languages: Konkani (mother tongue), English, Hindi (official language), Tulu, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Malayalam and Latin.[26][27]
  • Janet Hsieh, Taiwanese-American television personality, violinist, author, and model. She is fluent in English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, and Taiwanese.[28]
  • Lokesh Chandra, one of the world's foremost scholars of Buddhism, the Indian researcher is described as "a polyglot and knows Pali, Avesta, Old Persian, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Indonesian, Greek, Latin, German, French and Russian besides Hindi, Sanskrit and English."[29]
  • Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, a Sri Lankan Catholic prelate, is fluent in 11 languages: Sinhala, Tamil, English, (the 3 official languages of Sri Lanka), German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Indonesian.[30]
  • Mickey Curtis, a Japanese actor, singer, and television celebrity born to Japanese-English parents. He speaks Japanese, English, French, German, Italian and Thai.[31]
  • Kamal Haasan, an Indian actor who can speak Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam and English.[32]
  • Rinku Tiwari, a Teacher who can speak Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Bhojpuri, English, Basics Sanskrit, Basics Nepali ans Basics Spanish.
  • Péter Frankl, juggler and mathematician, speaks twelve languages: English, Russian, Swedish, French, Spanish, Polish, German, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean.[33][34]
  • Prakash Raj is an Indian actor who can speak Tulu (his mother tongue), Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Hindi and Malayalam.[35]
  • Priya Anand, an Indian actress who can speak Tamil, Telugu, English, Bengali, Hindi, Marathi and Spanish languages.[36]
  • R. Sarathkumar, an Indian actor who can speak Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Russian and English fluently.[37]
  • Rajinikanth, an Indian actor who can speak Marathi (his mother tongue), Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, and English fluently.[37]
  • Swami Rambhadracharya, a Hindu religious leader and Sanskrit scholar based in Chitrakoot, India, can speak twenty-two languages, including Sanskrit, Hindi, English, French, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Oriya, Gujarati, Punjabi, Marathi, Magadhi, Awadhi, and Braj. Rambhadracharya has been blind since the age of two months and received no formal education until the age of seventeen. He has never used braille, or any other aid, to learn or compose his works and has authored more than 100 books.[38][39][40]
  • Ling Tan, Malaysian supermodel, speaks four[which?] varieties of Chinese, Malay, and English.[41]
  • Karen Mok, Hong Kong-Chinese actress and singer, speaks English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian, German and French.[42]
  • Ziad Fazah, known for his claim of being able to speak, read and understand 59 languages. He was listed in the Guinness World Records up until 1998 as the person who could speak the most languages.
  • Shilpa Shetty, Indian film actress, businesswoman, producer, model and writer.[43][better source needed] Speaks English, Tulu, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Tamil and Urdu.[44]

Europe

Israel

Oceania

Notable deceased reputed polyglots

The following list consists of deceased individuals who are associated with claims of polyglotism, by date of birth.

Antiquity and Middle Ages

  • Mithridates VI of Pontus (134–63 BC) could supposedly speak the languages of all twenty-two nations within his kingdom.[87]
  • Cleopatra VII (69–30 BC), the last ruling Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, could, according to the Roman biographer Plutarch, speak nine languages and was the only member of her dynasty who could speak Egyptian as well as her native Greek.[88]
  • al-Farabi (872–950/951), a Persian polymath who mastered many languages.[89]

Modern age, pre-17th century

17th century

18th century

  • Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718–1799) was an Italian mathematician, philosopher, theologian and humanitarian. Agnesi was known as "the seven-language orator" already in her childhood, since she was fluent with Italian, French, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German and Latin.
  • Adam František Kollár (1718–1783), a Slovak writer, spoke Slovak, Czech, Serbian, Polish, Rusin, Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Turkish, Chinese, Persian, Arabic, Italian, Romanian, French, Dutch, and English.[95]
  • Zaharije Orfelin (1726–1785) was a Serbian writer, artist, and polyglot who spoke more than 10 languages, and understood many more.
  • Jovan Rajić (1726–1801) was a Serbian writer and cleric who spoke and wrote in many languages in his time. He was born in the Habsburg Empire where one had to know German, Hungarian, Latin, Italian, Romanian, and all the Slavic languages if one wanted to achieve a standing.
  • Dositej Obradović (1739–1811) was a Serbian writer. Obradović spoke and wrote in German, French, Italian, English, Greek, Albanian, Latin, Turkish, Hungarian, Romanian and all of the Slavic languages, including Russian and Church Slavonic.
  • Sir William Jones (1746–1794), an Anglo-Welsh philologist known for founding comparative linguistics through proposing the existence of a relationship between European and Indian languages (the Indo-European Languages). Alongside his native English and Welsh languages, he learned Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and the basics of Chinese writing at an early age. In all, Jones could speak forty-one languages (at least thirteen fluently).[96][97]
  • Jean-François Champollion (1790–1832), a French classical scholar, philologist, and orientalist, was the first to decipher the inscription on the Rosetta Stone, an achievement that facilitated the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphs—the titles "Father of Egyptology"[98] and "the founder of scientific Egyptology" have since been bestowed upon Champollion.[99] He specialized in Oriental languages while he was a student at the College de France between 1807 and 1809, and his linguistic repertoire eventually consisted of Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Pahlavi, Arabic, Persian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Zend, and his native French.[98][99][100]
  • Matija Čop (1797–1835) was a Slovenian polymath and linguist, and was said to speak nineteen languages, among which were his native Slovene, Latin, ancient Greek, German, English, French, Italian, Serbian, Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Occitan and Hebrew.
  • Noah Webster (1758–1843), a lexicographer, English spelling reformer, and author, mastered twenty-three languages.[citation needed]
  • Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774–1849), an Italian Cardinal, knew the following thirty-nine languages, speaking many fluently and teaching some:[101] Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinical Hebrew, Arabic, Coptic, Ancient Armenian, Modern Armenian, Persian, Turkish, Albanian, Maltese, Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, English, Illyrian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Chinese, Syriac, Ge'ez, Hindustani, Amharic, Gujarati, Basque, Romanian, and Algonquin.
  • John Bowring (1792–1872), an English political economist, traveler, writer, and the fourth governor of Hong Kong. Reputed to have known over two hundred languages, and to have had varying speaking ability in one hundred.

19th century

20th century

A-E

G-K

L-Q

  • Christopher Lee (1922–2015), English actor, singer, author, and World War II veteran who spoke fluent English, Italian, French, Spanish and German, and was moderately proficient in Swedish, Russian and Greek.[145]
  • Nathan Leopold Jr. (1904–1971) was born to a wealthy Jewish family. He spoke his first words at four months. He reportedly had an intelligence quotient of 210, and claimed to have been able to speak twenty-seven languages by the time he was nineteen.[146] More likely he was only fluent in nine or ten languages.[147] He was involved in the murder of Robert "Bobby" Franks with friend Richard Loeb. He served thirty-three years in prison before receiving parole.
  • Kató Lomb (1909–2003), a Hungarian interpreter, translator, and one of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world, was able to interpret fluently in ten languages.[148]
  • Fazlur Rahman Malik (1919–1988), a Pakistani scholar of Islam, proficient in Urdu, Persian, Arabic, English, classical Greek, Latin, German and French.[149]
  • Uku Masing (1909–1985), an Estonian linguist, theologian, ethnologist, and poet, claimed to know approximately sixty-five languages, and could translate twenty.[150]
  • Thomas Joseph Odhiambo "Tom" Mboya, (1930 – 1969) a Kenyan trade unionist, educationist, Pan Africanist, author, and politician could speak English as well as several Kenyan languages such as KiKamba, Kikuyu and his mother tongue DhoLuo.
  • Hugh Nibley (1910-2005), an American scholar, academic and professor. Could read Arabic, Coptic, Dutch, Egyptian, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Old Norse, Russian and other languages at sight.
  • Enoch Powell (1912–1998), an English politician, classical scholar, linguist, and poet. English, French, German, Italian, Urdu, Modern Greek, Classical Greek, Latin, Welsh, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hebrew.[151]* João Guimarães Rosa (1908–1967) was a Brazilian writer considered by many to be one of the greatest Brazilian novelists born in the 20th century and a self-taught polyglot. In a letter he claimed to speak Portuguese, German, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Esperanto, and some Russian. He also claimed to read Swedish, Dutch, Latin and Greek, but with the use of a dictionary. He also professed some understanding of German dialects, and study of Hungarian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Lithuanian, Polish, Tupi, Hebrew, Japanese, Czech, Finnish, and Danish grammar. Guimarães Rosa suggested that studying other languages helped him understand the national language of Brazil more deeply, but that he studied primarily for pleasure.[152]
  • Omeljan Pritsak (1919–2006), professor of Turkology and linguistics and cofounder of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, was fluent in 12 languages and learned 67 in connection with his research.[153]

R-Z

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