List of polyglots

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This is a list of notable people with a knowledge of six or more languages.

Living[edit]

Africa[edit]

  • Peter Turkson (1948–), Ghanaian Catholic cardinal. In addition to his native language, Fante, he speaks a number of other Ghanaian languages, as well as English, French, Italian, German, and Hebrew. He also knows Latin and Greek.[1]
  • Dikembe Mutombo (1966–), Congolese former basketball player. Speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Tshiluba, Swahili, Lingala, and two other Central African languages.[2]
  • Trevor Noah (1984–), South African comedian. Speaks English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Tsonga, and some German.[3]

Americas[edit]

  • Pope Francis (1936–), current leader of the Catholic Church. Born in Argentina and of Italian descent, he speaks Spanish and Italian natively. In addition, he knows Latin, and can get by in German, French, Portuguese, and English.[4]
  • Ivan Argüelles (1939–), American poet. He knows most of the Romance languages (including Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Provençal, and Romanian) and a number of Indic languages (Hindi, Bengali, Sinhala, and Nepali), as well as Persian, German, Russian, Arabic, and some Chinese. He has also studied Latin, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Old Scandinavian, and Old Icelandic.[5]
  • Powell Janulus (1939–), Canadian court interpreter. According to the 1986 Guinness Book of World Records, he "has worked with 41 languages in the Provincial Court of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada."[6]
  • Stephen Krashen (1941–), American linguist. Speaks English, German, Yiddish, Spanish, French, Hebrew, and Amharic.[7]
  • Steve Kaufmann (1945–), Canadian businessman. He has some understanding of twenty languages, although his ability to speak and write these languages varies to a considerable degree. Some of the languages he has studied are French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Swedish, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese.[8][9]
  • Ziad Fazah (1954–), Liberian-born Lebanese language teacher, now living in Brazil. He is famous for claiming to speak fifty-nine languages, and for a time was listed in The Guinness Book of Records. It is unclear how many languages he can in fact speak.[5]
  • Andrew Divoff (1955–), Venezuelan actor and producer. Speaks English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Catalan, Portuguese, and Russian.[10] At one time he also knew Romanian, but forgot it through lack of use.[11]
  • Viggo Mortensen (1958–), Danish-American actor. He grew up bilingual in English and Spanish, and later learnt Danish, Italian, and French. He also has some knowledge of Arabic.[12]
  • Julie Payette (1963–), former governor general of Canada. Speaks French and English natively, and can converse in Spanish, Italian, Russian, and German.[13]
  • Alexander Argüelles (1964–), American linguist. He speaks most of the Germanic and Romance languages (in particular, German, Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian), as well as Russian, Korean, and Arabic, and he has a reading knowledge of many more languages, such as Persian and Old Norse.[5][14][15]
  • Sérgio Meira (1968–), Brazilian linguist. He speaks Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, English, German, and Esperanto, and to a lesser extent Catalan, Dutch, Russian, and Tiriyó.[16] He can read with a dictionary Swedish, Latin, and Greek (both classical and modern),[16] and has considerable knowledge of Volapük.[17]
  • Alberto Lati (1978–), Mexican sports journalist. Speaks Spanish, English, Hebrew, Portuguese, German, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese, French, Greek, and Zulu with varying degrees of fluency.[18]
  • Pete Buttigieg (1982–), American politician. Speaks English, Norwegian, Spanish, French, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, and Dari with varying degrees of fluency.[19]

Asia[edit]

  • Lokesh Chandra (1927–), Indian scholar. He knows Sanskrit, Pali, Hindi, Avestan, Old Persian, Greek, Latin, French, German, English, Russian, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Japanese, and Indonesian.[20]
  • Jeong Su-il (1934–), Chinese-born North Korean spy. Speaks Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Malay, Arabic, Persian, Russian, French, Spanish, German, and English.[21]
  • Mickey Curtis (1938–), Japanese actor and singer. Speaks Japanese, English, German, French, Italian, and Thai.[22]
  • Levon Ter-Petrosyan (1945–), former president of Armenia. He speaks Armenian, Russian, French, English, German, Arabic, and Assyrian. He also knows a number of ancient languages.[23][24]
  • Malcolm Ranjith (1947–), current archbishop of Colombo. Speaks Sinhala, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Tamil, and Indonesian. He also knows Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.[25]
  • Rambhadracharya (1950–), Indian religious leader. Speaks English, French, Sanskrit, Hindi, Bhojpuri, Maithily, Oria, Gujrati, Punjabi, Marathi, Maghdhi, Awadhi, and Braj, as well as a number of other Indic languages.[26]
  • Péter Frankl (1953–), Hungarian mathematician, now living in Japan. Speaks eleven languages, including Hungarian, Japanese, Chinese, English, and French.[27]
  • Kamal Haasan (1954–), Indian actor. Speaks Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, Marathi, and English.[28]
  • Shabnam Mausi (1955–), Indian politician. Speaks twelve languages.[29]
  • Naela Chohan (1958–), Pakistani diplomat. Speaks Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Persian, English, French, and Spanish.[30]
  • Prakash Raj (1965–), Indian actor. Speaks Kannada, Tulu, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, and English.[31]
  • Hikmat Hasanov (1975–), Azerbaijani military officer. Speaks Azerbaijani, Turkish, Armenian, Russian, English, and Persian.[32][33]
  • Priya Anand (1986–), Indian actress. Speaks Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Spanish, and English.[34]
  • Henrikh Mkhitaryan (1989–), Armenian footballer. Speaks Armenian, Russian, English, German, French, and Portuguese.[35]

Europe[edit]

  • Pope Benedict XVI (1927–), former leader of the Catholic Church. In addition to his native language, German, he speaks English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Latin, and can read Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew.[36]
  • John C. Wells (1939–), British phonetician. He studied Latin and Classical Greek at university, and speaks English, Esperanto, German, Welsh, French, Spanish, Italian, and Modern Greek with varying degrees of fluency. He also has some knowledge of Polish, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Japanese.[37]
  • Queen Silvia of Sweden (1943–), spouse of King Carl XVI Gustaf. The daughter of a German father and a Brazilian mother, she speaks German and Portuguese natively. She also knows Spanish, French, English, and Swedish,[38] and has some knowledge of Swedish sign language.[39]
  • André Rieu (1949–), Dutch violinist and conductor. Speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.[40]
  • Ranga Yogeshwar (1959–), Luxembourgish physicist and science journalist. Speaks Luxembourgish, German, English, French, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam.[41]
  • Johan Vandewalle (1960–), Belgian linguist. In 1987, at the age of twenty-six, he won the Polyglot of Flanders/Babel Prize, after demonstrating communicative competence in nineteen languages (Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bashkir, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Kyrgyz, Persian, Russian, Swahili, Tajik, Tatar, Turkish, Turkmen, Tuvan, Uyghur, and Uzbek).[5][42]
  • Frans Timmermans (1961–), Dutch politician. Speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Italian, and Russian.[43]
  • Sigrid Kaag (1961–), Dutch politician. Speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish, and Arabic.[44]
  • José Mourinho (1963–), Portuguese football manager. Speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, Catalan, and English.[45]
  • Ioannis Ikonomou (1964–), translator at the European Commission. He speaks thirty-two modern languages, including twenty-one of the twenty-four official languages of the European Union (the three exceptions being Estonian, Maltese, and Irish). Among the other languages that he speaks are Russian, Bengali, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, and Mandarin. He has also studied a number of ancient languages, such as Old Church Slavoniic, Classical Armenian, Sanskrit, Sogdian, and Assyro-Babylonian.[46]
  • Connie Nielsen (1965–), Danish actress. Speaks Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, English, German, French, Italian, and some Spanish.[47]
  • Anatoly Moskvin (1966–), Russian linguist, arrested in 2011 after twenty-six mummified bodies were discovered in his home. He has studied thirteen languages.[48]
  • Mikheil Saakashvili (1967–), former president of Georgia. Speaks Georgian, Russian, Ukrainian, English, and French,[49] and has some command of Spanish[50] and Ossetian.[51]
  • Gianni Infantino (1970–), current president of FIFA. Born in Switzerland to Italian parents, he speaks Italian, French, and Swiss German natively. He also knows English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.[52]
  • Željko Joksimović (1972–), Serbian singer-songwriter. Speaks Serbian, Russian, Polish, Greek, English, and French.[53]
  • Clarence Seedorf (1976–), Dutch former footballer. Speaks Dutch, English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Surinamese.[54]
  • Richard Simcott (1977–), British language consultant. He speaks sixteen languages (English, French, Spanish, Welsh, German, Macedonian, Swedish, Italian, Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian, Portuguese, Czech, Catalan, Russian, Dutch, Romanian, and Albanian)[55] and can use around thirty languages in total to some degree.[56]
  • Zdeno Chára (1977–), Slovak ice hockey player. Speaks Slovak, Czech, Polish, Russian, Swedish, German, and English.[57]
  • Daniel Tammet (1979–), British author. In his book Born on a Blue Day, he states that he knows ten languages: English, Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic, and Welsh.[58]
  • Zlatan Ibrahimović (1981–), Swedish footballer. Speaks Swedish, Bosnian, English, French, Italian, and Spanish.[59]
  • Mikel Arteta (1982–), Spanish football manager. Speaks Basque, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, French, Italian, and English.[60]
  • Ivan Rakitić (1988–), Croatian footballer. Speaks Croatian, English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish.[61]
  • Miralem Pjanić (1990–), Bosnian footballer. Speaks Bosnian, Luxembourgish, German, English, French, and Italian.[62]
  • Romelu Lukaku (1993–), Belgian footballer. Speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Lingala.[63]

Oceania[edit]

  • Ghil'ad Zuckermann (1971–), Israeli linguist, now living in Australia. He can speak eleven languages, and has some knowledge of eleven more.[64]

Deceased[edit]

Antiquity and Middle Ages[edit]

Modern age, pre-18th century[edit]

18th century[edit]

  • 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, Spanish, Romanian, French, Dutch, and English.[75]
  • 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.
  • 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).[76][77]
  • 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:[78] 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.
  • Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855), a German mathematician and physicist who made significant contributions to many fields in mathematics and sciences, excelled in ancient Greek and Latin at school. Entering university, Gauss considered studying philology.[79] He wrote the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, a groundbreaking work in the field of number theory, in Latin when he was 21. Gauss was known for his language capabilities; he spoke and wrote most of the principal European languages, many others he could read.[80][81] At the age of 62 he started learning Russian and in less than two years wrote and spoke it.[82]
  • Sándor Kőrösi Csoma (1784–1842), a Hungarian philologist and Orientalist, author of the first Tibetan-English dictionary and grammar book, was literate in at least eighteen languages, including Latin, ancient Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, French, German, English, Russian, Slavic, Turkish, Persian, Hindustani, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Bengali, Pashto, Marathi, and probably also Romanian, apart from his native Hungarian.
  • 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"[83] and "the founder of scientific Egyptology" have since been bestowed upon Champollion.[84] 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.[83][84][85]
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800–1891) was a brilliant strategist and tactician who had a decisive share in the success of the Kingdom of Prussia in the German Unification Wars, adapting the army to modern times. He achieved this by separating the army on the march and concentrating it at the decisive moment, Getrennt marschieren – vereint schlagen (March separately, strike together), and giving subordinates independence in how to accomplish their goals, Auftragstaktik (Mission-type tactics). He was taciturn, popular called der große Schweiger (the great silent one), although he had an excellent knowledge of languages. It was quipped that he was 'silent in seven languages'. [86] Moltke spoke and wrote German, Danish, French, English, Italian and Turkish.[87]

19th century[edit]

  • William Rowan Hamilton (1805–1865), Irish mathematician. Encouraged by his uncle, he learnt many languages while still young, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Hindustani, Bengali, Marathi, and Malay.[88]
  • Jan Prosper Witkiewicz (1808–1839), Polish-Lithuanian explorer and diplomat. He spoke Polish, Russian, English, German, French, Persian, Pashto, Kazakh, and Chagatai Turkish. He also knew the Quran by heart.[89][90]
  • Solomon Caesar Malan (1812–1894), British clergyman. He was conversant with around eighty languages, including German, English, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, and Tibetan.[91]
  • Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898), Prussian statesman. In addition to his native language, German, he spoke English and French, and to a lesser extent Italian, Russian, Polish, and Plattdeutsch. He also had some knowledge of Latin.[92]
  • Herschell Filipowski (1816–1872), Lithuanian-born British actuary and editor. He knew Polish, Russian, German, English, French, Spanish, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Chinese.[93]
  • C. V. Runganada Sastri (1819–1881), Indian civil servant. He knew English, German, French, Latin, Greek, Persian, Sanskrit, Hindustani, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Arabic, and some Hebrew.[94]
  • Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), German political theorist. He knew many European languages, including German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Russian, Polish, and Irish.[95]
  • Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821–1890) was a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat; his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures amounted to having "mastered at least twenty-five languages—or forty, if distinct dialects are counted."[96]
  • Heinrich Schliemann (1822–1890) was a German businessman and a pioneer of field archaeology. He was an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer. Schliemann was an archaeological excavator of Hissarlik, now presumed to be the site of Troy, along with the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns. Mastered over fifteen languages.
  • Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil (1825–1891) had a deep interest in many different arts and sciences. His passion for linguistics prompted lifelong studies of new languages, and he was able to speak and write not only his native Portuguese but also Latin, French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Chinese, Occitan and Tupi.[97]
  • Vaso Pasha (1825–1892) also known as Pashko Vasa, Wasa Pasha or Vaso Pashë Shkodrani, was an Albanian writer, poet and publicist. He had perfect knowledge of a number of foreign languages: Italian, French, Turkish and Greek. He also knew some English and Serbian, and in later years learned Arabic.[98]
  • Konstandin Kristoforidhi (1826–1895) was an Albanian translator and scholar. He is mostly known for having translated into Albanian the New Testament for the first time in the Gheg Albanian dialect in 1872. He knew Albanian (Tosk and Gheg dialects), Greek, Latin, Hebrew, English, Italian, Turkish, Bulgarian, Arabic, French, German.
  • Georg Sauerwein (1831–1904) was a German publisher, polyglot, poet, and linguist. Sauerwein mastered about seventy-five languages, including: Latin, ancient Greek, modern Greek, Hebrew, French, Italian, Spanish, Basque, Portuguese, English, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx Gaelic, Dutch, Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Sami, Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, Sorbian, Serbian, Croatian, Hungarian, Romanian, Albanian, Turkish, Azerbaijani, Chuvash (a Turkic language), Tamil, Kashgar (spoken in Siberia, similar to the language of Uzbekistan), Kumyk (spoken in Siberia), Persian, Armenian, Georgian, Sanskrit, Romani, Hindustani, Ethiopian, Tigrinya (another language of Ethiopia), Coptic or ancient Egyptian, Arabic, Malagasy (the language of Madagascar), Malay, Samoan, Hawaiian, different dialects of Chinese, and Aneitum (a language spoken in the New Hebrides).
  • Pétrus Ky (1837–1898), a Vietnamese scholar, was proficient in French, English, Latin, Greek, Hindi, Japanese, as well as in Chinese, Spanish, Malay, Lao, Thai and Burmese.
  • James Augustus Henry Murray (1837–1915), was a Scottish lexicographer, instrumental in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, and its primary editor from 1879 until his death. In an application letter written to the British Museum Library in November 1866, he claimed abilities in Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, and Latin, and "in a less degree" Portuguese, Provençal, Dutch, German, Flemish, and Danish. The letter also referred to Murray's study of Celtic, Russian, Persian, Hebrew, and Syriac, among other languages and dialects.[99]
  • Yaqub Sanu (1839–1912), Egyptian journalist.
  • Hagop Baronian (1843–1891), notable Armenian writer and playwright. He was fluent in 6 languages including French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian and his native Armenian.
  • Chiragh Ali (1844–1895), an Islamic scholar who, apart from his native Urdu, mastered Persian, Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Greek.[100]
  • Naim Frashëri (1846–1900) was an Albanian poet and writer. He is the author of a total of twenty-two works: four in Turkish, one in Persian, two in Greek and fifteen in Albanian. He learned Ottoman Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Ancient and Modern Greek, French, Italian.[101]
  • Sami Frashëri (1850–1904) Albanian writer during Ottoman occupation of Albania. He authored many books, dictionaries, and an encyclopedia in every language he knows. He was fluent in Albanian, Turkish, Greek, French, Italian, Arabic and Persian.
  • Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891) French Symbolist poet. After retiring from writing he went on ambitious language learning program while traveling around Europe and the Middle East; mastering Latin, Ancient and Modern Greek, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Arabic, Hindi, Amharic,[102] as well as developing a working knowledge of several native African languages while living in Ethiopia.[103]
  • Yoimut, last speaker of the Chunut language, who spoke 8 Yokutsan languages along with English and Spanish.[104]
  • Robert Dick Wilson (1856–1930), American Bible scholar, spoke forty-five languages including Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, as well as all the languages into which the Scriptures had been translated up to 600 CE.
  • Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist, best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. Read and memorized the entirety of many books, and was capable of speaking eight languages: Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.[105]
  • Ludwig Zamenhof (1859–1917), creator of the constructed language Esperanto, spoke eleven languages besides his own: Aramaic, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Polish, Volapük, and his native Russian and Yiddish. He also had an interest in Arabic, Italian, and Lithuanian, though he never claimed fluency in those.[citation needed]
  • José Rizal (1861–1896) was a Filipino nationalist, writer and revolutionary. He was able to speak twenty-two languages including Spanish, French, Latin, Greek, German, Portuguese, Italian, English, Dutch, and Japanese. Rizal also made translations from Arabic, Swedish, Russian, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew and Sanskrit. He translated the poetry of Schiller into his native Tagalog. In addition, he had at least some knowledge of Malay, and some other Philippine languages like Chavacano, Cebuano, Ilocano, and Subanon.[106][107][108]
  • Emil Krebs (1867–1930) was a German polyglot and sinologist. He mastered sixty-eight languages in speech and writing, and studied 120 others.
  • Minakata Kumagusu (1867–1941), a Japanese author, biologist and naturalist.
  • Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867–1951), Finnish military leader during the Finnish Civil War and sixth president of Finland, spoke Finnish, Russian, French, German, and English, in addition to his mother tongue, Swedish.[109][110]
  • James Connolly (1868–1916), Irish revolutionary who spoke English, Irish, Italian, German, French and Esperanto[111]
  • Rıza Tevfik Bölükbaşı (1869–1949), a Turkish philosopher and politician, who "...was proficient in eight languages, including Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Persian, and Spanish"[112] in addition to Hebrew, Albanian and Armenian.[113]
  • Ahatanhel Krymsky (1871–1942), a Ukrainian orientalist and linguist; was an expert in up to 34 languages.[114]
  • Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950), an Indian philosopher who, apart from his native Bengali and educational English, knew ancient Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, Spanish and other Indian languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati.[115]
  • Constantin Carathéodory (1873–1950), a Greek mathematician who found the first proof of the Riemann mapping theorem. His native languages were Greek and French, and he was able to speak German, English, Italian and Turkish.
  • Harold Williams (1876–1928), a New Zealand journalist and linguist, spoke more than fifty-eight languages.[116]
  • Hrachia Adjarian (1876–1953), Armenian linguist. He spoke Armenian, Greek, Hebrew, French, English, German, Italian, Persian, Latin, Sanskrit, and Laz.[117]
  • Harinath De (1877–1911) could speak thirty-four languages including many eastern and western languages such as Chinese, Tibetan, Pali, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, English, Greek, Latin, out of which he was M.A in fourteen.
  • Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), perhaps one of the greatest poets of Urdu and Persian languages. Among his work of poetry, Asrar-e-Khudi, appeared in the Persian language in 1915, and other books of poetry include Rumuz-i-Bekhudi, Payam-i-Mashriq and Zabur-i-Ajam. Amongst these his best known Urdu works are Bang-i-Dara, Bal-i-Jibril, Zarb-i Kalim and a part of Armughan-e-Hijaz. Mohammed Iqbal was fluent in Urdu, Persian, Punjabi, Arabic, Hindi, Latin, Greek and English.
  • Martin Buber (1878–1965), Austrian Jewish philosopher, who "spoke German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, English, French and Italian and read, in addition to these, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Dutch and other languages".[118]
  • Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973), Austrian economist. By the age of 12, Mises spoke fluent German, Polish and French, read Latin and could understand Ukrainian.[119]
  • Subramania Bharati (1882–1921), a great Tamil poet, learnt 32 languages (29 Indian languages and 3 foreign languages) including Tamil, English, Hindi, Sanskrit and Bengali.
  • James Joyce (1882–1941), Irish novelist. Was fluent in English, Italian (both Standard Italian and the Trieste Dialect), French, German, Norwegian and Latin, and had conversational abilities in Irish and Greek[120]
  • Bronisław Malinowski (1884–1942) was a Polish anthropologist, known for his work in the Trobriand Islands, spoke fluently Polish, German, English, Kilivila and Italian at least.
  • Andrzej Gawroński (1885–1927) was a Polish indologist, linguist and polyglot, the author of the first Polish handbook of Sanskrit, founder of Polish Oriental Society who was able to speak more than 40 languages and studied 100 others[121]
  • Benoy Kumar Sarkar (1887–1949), an Indian social scientist, mastered many languages, and wrote in five: his native Bengali, English, German, French and Italian.[122]
  • Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969), the Vietnamese Communist leader, became fluent in French, English, Russian, Cantonese, and Mandarin, in addition to his native Vietnamese, through study and many years spent in exile.[123]
  • Suzanne Karpelès (1890–1968), was a French Indologist who lived in the French East Indies and a scholar of French, Sanskrit, Pali, Nepali, Tibetan, Thai and Khmer languages.[124]
  • Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan (1893–1963) could speak thirty-six languages and wrote in more than six.[125]
  • Agop Dilâçar (1895–1979), Turkish-Armenian linguist who was proficient in 22 languages.
  • Shuddhananda Bharati (1897–1990), an Indian revolutionary turned mystic author who wrote "over 250 published works, 173 are in Tamil, fifty in English, six in French, four in Hindi and three in Telugu. Apart from these languages, he was also conversant with Sanskrit, Kannada, Malayalam and Urdu."[126]
  • William James Sidis (1898–1944), an American child prodigy who knew eight languages (Latin, Greek, German, French, Russian, Hebrew, Turkish and Armenian) at eight years old and claimed to speak about forty languages shortly before his death. He also created his own constructed language, which was called Vendergood. Although Sidis was claimed to have an IQ between 250 and 300 measured through psychological analysis, this was never confirmed.[127]

20th century[edit]

1900s[edit]

  • Sukarno (1901–1970), Indonesian politician. He spoke Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, Indonesian, Dutch, German, English, French, Arabic, and Japanese.[128]
  • Steven Runciman (1903–2000), British historian. He began learning French at the age of three, Latin at six, Greek at seven, and Russian at eleven.[129] He also knew Bulgarian and Turkish.[130]
  • Antoun Saadeh (1904–1949), Lebanese political thinker. He spoke Arabic, English, German, Russian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.[131]
  • Syed Mujtaba Ali (1904–1974), Bangladeshi writer. He knew Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Sanskrit, Persian, Pashto, English, German, French, Italian, and Arabic.[132]
  • S. Srikanta Sastri (1904–1974), Indian historian. He knew fourteen languages, including German, French, Russian, Sanskrit, Pali, Hittite, ancient Greek, and Latin.[133]
  • Pent Nurmekund (1906–1996), Estonian linguist. He could read over eighty languages and could speak a great many of them.[134]
  • Muhammad Hamidullah (1908–2002), stateless scholar. He knew ten languages and published works in seven of them (Urdu, Persian, English, German, French, Arabic, and Turkish).[135]
  • João Guimarães Rosa (1908–1967), Brazilian novelist. He spoke Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, Esperanto, and some Russian, and could read with the aid of a dictionary Swedish, Dutch, Latin, and Greek. He studied the grammar of a number of other languages, including Sanskrit, Lithuanian, Polish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, and Tupi.[136]
  • Kató Lomb (1909–2003), Hungarian interpreter. She spoke Hungarian, Russian, German, English, and French, and to a lesser extent Spanish, Italian, Polish, Japanese, and Chinese. She could also translate from Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Ukrainian, Czech, Bulgarian, Romanian, Portuguese, and Latin.[137][138]
  • Uku Masing (1909–1985), Estonian scholar. He reputedly knew around sixty-five languages.[139]

1910s[edit]

  • Hugh Nibley (1910–2005), American scholar. He knew fourteen languages.[140]
  • Lyuba Kutincheva (1910–1998), Bulgarian traveller. She spoke Bulgarian, Russian, Romanian, French, Turkish, Arabic, and Esperanto.[141]
  • Enoch Powell (1912–1998), British politician and classical scholar. He spoke English, German, French, Italian, modern Greek, and Hindi–Urdu, and had a reading knowledge of Welsh, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Among ancient languages, he knew classical Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic.[142][143][144]
  • George Campbell (1912–2004), British linguist. He spoke forty-four languages and had a working knowledge of perhaps twenty others.[145][146][147][148][149]
  • Meredith Gardner (1912–2002), American linguist and codebreaker. He spoke German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Lithuanian, and Japanese, and could read Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Old High German, Middle High German, and Old Church Slavonic.[150][151]
  • Toshihiko Izutsu (1914–1993), Japanese scholar. He knew more than thirty languages, including Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Pali, Russian, Greek, and Chinese.[152][153]
  • Aziz Ahmad (1914–1978), Pakistani novelist. He spoke Urdu, Persian, English, German, French, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish.[154]
  • Nabi Bakhsh Baloch (1917–2011), Pakistani scholar. He wrote in Sindhi, Seraiki, Urdu, Balochi, Persian, English, and Arabic.[155]
  • Henryk Szeryng (1918–1988), Polish violinist. He spoke Polish, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.[156]
  • Omeljan Pritsak (1919–2006), Ukrainian scholar. He spoke twelve languages.[157]
  • Shūichi Katō (1919–2008), Japanese scholar. He spoke Japanese, Chinese, English, German, French, and Italian.[158]
  • Fazlur Rahman Malik (1919–1988), Pakistani scholar. In addition to his native language, Urdu, he knew Arabic, Persian, English, German, French, Latin, and classical Greek.[159]

1920s[edit]

  • Pope John Paul II (1920–2005), 264th leader of the Catholic Church. In addition to his native language, Polish, he knew Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, and German.[160]
  • Ahmad Hasan Dani (1920–2009), Pakistani archaeologist. He spoke fifteen languages, including French, Tamil, and Turkish.[161]
  • Alessandro Bausani (1921–1988), Italian scholar. He had a good knowledge of as many as thirty languages,[162] including Persian, Urdu, Arabic, Turkish, Indonesian, and Basque.[163]
  • P. V. Narasimha Rao (1921–2004), Indian politician. He spoke seventeen languages, including English, German, Spanish, and French.[164]
  • Max Mangold (1922–2015), Swiss linguist. He spoke almost forty languages.[165]
  • Christopher Lee (1922–2015), British actor. He spoke English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish, and had some knowledge of Swedish, Russian, and Greek.[166]
  • Michael Ventris (1922–1956), British architect and decipherer of Linear B. By the age of ten, he spoke English, French, German, Swiss German, and Polish. As an adult, he learnt Russian, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Spanish, modern Greek, and some Turkish.[167]
  • Stephen Wurm (1922–2001), Hungarian-born Australian linguist. "He was a genuine rapid language learner, and before he was 40, was fluent in five of the Germanic languages, five of the Romance languages, three Slavic languages, in Arabic, Swahili, Turkish, Uzbek, Mongol, Mandarin, Tok Pisin, and Police Motu, and could get by in perhaps 30 other languages—over 50 in all."[168]
  • Hans Eberstark (1929–2001), Austrian interpreter. He interpreted into English and German from Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, and Catalan. He also had some knowledge of Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Surinamese Creole, Haitian Creole, Papiamento, Yiddish, several varieties of Swiss German, Albanian, Hebrew, and Amharic.[169]

1930s[edit]

  • Barry Farber (1930–2020), American radio host. When inducted into the army, he qualified for work in fourteen languages. He had some knowledge of twenty-five languages in total.[170]
  • George Fernandes (1930–2019), Indian politician. In addition to his mother tongue, Konkani, he spoke Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, English, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Tulu. He also knew Latin.[171]
  • P. B. Sreenivas (1930–2013), Indian singer. He spoke eight languages, including Kannada, Urdu, and English.[172]
  • Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou (1930–1989), Iranian politician. He spoke Kurdish, Persian, English, German, French, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Arabic.[173]
  • Jon Elia (1931–2002), Pakistani poet. He knew Urdu, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, and English.[174]
  • Kenneth L. Hale (1934–2001), American linguist. He spoke over fifty languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Irish, Polish, Basque, Turkish, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Navajo, Jemez, Hopi, Oʼodham, Wômpanâak, Ulwa, Miskitu, Warlpiri, and Lardil.[175][176][177][178][179]

Post-1930s[edit]

  • J. Jayalalithaa (1948–2016), Indian politician and actress. She spoke Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, and English.[180]
  • Sergei Starostin (1953–2005), Russian linguist. He spoke Russian, Polish, English, German, and French, and could read a further thirteen Slavic languages, as well as Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit. Through his research, he had some knowledge of a wide range of other languages.[181]
  • Shahab Ahmed (1966–2015), Pakistani scholar of Islam. He mastered around fifteen languages.[182]
  • Moses McCormick (1981–2021), American YouTuber. He spoke around twenty languages at a conversational level.[183]

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