List of polyglots

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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 attainment, 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 six or more languages fluently. For general discussion of the phenomenon, including discussion of polyglot savants, see polyglotism.

Notable living polyglots[edit]

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, Steve 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[edit]

The Americas[edit]

  • 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.[9]
  • 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.
  • Timothy Doner, then a seventeen-year-old New York City-based student, was featured in the New York Times for his ability to speak over twenty languages to various levels, including English, French, Hausa, Wolof, Russian, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Arabic, Pashto, Persian, Mandarin, Turkish, Indonesian, Dutch, Xhosa, Kiswahili, Hindi, Ojibwe, Kinyarwanda, and Creole.[10]
  • 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.[11]
  • 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.[12]

Asia[edit]

  • Shoichi Funaki is a professional wrestler. He is fluent in Japanese, English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.
  • Jackson Wang is a Chinese singer, rapper and dancer from Hong Kong and a member of Got7 (kpop boy group under JYP Entertainment). He speaks Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, English, Shanghainese, Japanese and basic French.[13]
  • Asin is an Indian actress who can speak Malayalam (her mother-tongue), Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, English, Sanskrit, and French. She speaks some Marathi, Italian, Spanish and German.[14]
  • Ambassador Naela Chohan is a polyglot, feminist 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).
  • George Fernandes, an Indian politician who is well-versed in ten languages: Konkani, English, Hindi, Tulu, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Malayalam and Latin.[15]
  • Janet Hsieh, Taiwanese-American television personality, violinist, author, and model. She is fluent in English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, and Taiwanese.[16]
  • 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."[17]
  • 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 Bahasa Indonesia.[18]
  • Mickey Curtis, a Japanese actor, singer, and television celebrity born to Japanese-English parents. He speaks Japanese, English, French, German, Italian and Thai.[19]
  • Kamal Haasan, an Indian actor who can speak Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam and English.[20]
  • Péter Frankl, juggler and mathematician, speaks twelve languages (English, Russian, Swedish, French, Spanish, Polish, German, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean).
  • Prakash Raj is an Indian actor who can speak Tulu (his mother tongue), Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Hindi and Malayalam.[21]
  • Priya Anand, an Indian actress who can speak Tamil, Telugu, English, Bengali, Hindi, Marathi and Spanish languages.[22]
  • R. Sarathkumar, an Indian actor who can speak Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Russian and English fluently.[23]
  • Rajinikanth, an Indian actor who can speak Marathi (his mother tongue), Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, and English fluently.[23]
  • 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.[24][25][26]
  • Suman Pokhrel, a Nepali poet who speaks Nepali, English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Maithili.
  • Abin Shrestha, a Nepali scholar who can speak Nepali, Newari, English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Spanish.
  • Ling Tan, Malaysian supermodel, speaks four varieties of Chinese, Malay, and English.[27]

Europe[edit]

  • Carlos Yebra López is a Spanish philosopher and linguist who speaks and writes in ten languages, including Arabic, Serbian, German, Italian, Portuguese, French, English, Diasporic Judeo-Iberian, Catalan and Spanish.

Notable deceased reputed polyglots[edit]

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

External links[edit]

References[edit]

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