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 multilingual, although that term is used for communities as well as individuals.

Richard Hudson, b. 1939, professor emeritus of linguistics at University College London, coined the term "hyperpolyglot" for "people who know dozens of languages well".[2][3] Other scholars apply the label to speakers of even more languages: twelve, sixteen, or in the most extreme case, 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.

This list consists of notable people who have been noted in reliable sources as speaking multiple languages fluently.

Living[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, Steven Kaufmann, James Cheng and Keith Swayne. Tim Doner (US) and Richard Simcott (UK) also appear in the programme to describe their experiences speaking multiple languages.

Africa[edit]

  • Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, cardinal of the Catholic Church (Ghana): English, Fante, French, Italian, German, Hebrew, Greek, Latin[7]
  • Alick Macheso, Zimbabwean musician: Shona, Chichewa, Sena, Venda and Lingala
  • Dikembe Mutombo, athlete (Zaire): English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Tshiluba, Swahili, Lingala, and two other central African languages.[which?][8]
  • Trevor Noah, entertainer (South Africa): English, Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Setswana, Tsonga, Afrikaans, and German.[9][10]
  • Cyril Ramaphosa, politician and fifth president of South Africa: English, Afrikaans, Venda, Tsonga, Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho, Setswana, Northern Sotho and Southern Ndebele.

Americas[edit]

Asia[edit]

  • Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, speaks Modern Greek, Turkish, Italian, German, French and English; he is also fluent in classical Greek and Latin.
  • Jeong Su-il is a Korean historian. He can speak 12 languages.[29]
  • Jackson Wang is a Chinese singer, rapper and dancer from Hong Kong. He speaks Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, English, Shanghainese, Japanese and basic French.[30]
  • 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.[31]
  • Naela Chohan is a polyglot, artist, and 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, Tulu, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Malayalam and Latin.[32][33]
  • Janet Hsieh, Taiwanese-American television personality, violinist, author, and model. She is fluent in English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, and Taiwanese.[25]
  • 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."[34]
  • Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, a Sri Lankan Catholic prelate, is fluent in 11 languages: Sinhala, Tamil, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Indonesian.[35]
  • Mickey Curtis, a Japanese actor, singer, and television celebrity born to Japanese-English parents. He speaks Japanese, English, French, German, Italian and Thai.[36]
  • Shabnam Mausi is an Indian politician. She speaks 12 languages.[37]
  • Kamal Haasan, an Indian actor who can speak Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam and English.[38]
  • Péter Frankl, juggler and mathematician, speaks twelve languages: Hungarian, English, Russian, Swedish, French, Spanish, Polish, German, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean.[39][40]
  • Prakash Raj is an Indian actor who can speak Tulu (his mother tongue), Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Hindi and Malayalam.[41]
  • Priya Anand, an Indian actress who can speak Tamil, Telugu, English, Bengali, Hindi, Marathi and Spanish languages.[42]
  • R. Sarathkumar, an Indian actor who can speak Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Russian and English fluently.[43]
  • Natalie Portman, Israeli-born American actress. Her native languages are English and Hebrew. She is semi-fluent in French as she lived in France and is married to a Frenchman, Benjamin Millepied.[44] She is conversational in Spanish, Japanese, and German.[26]
  • Rajinikanth, an Indian actor who can speak Marathi (his mother tongue), Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, and English fluently.[43]
  • Swami Rambhadracharya, a Hindu religious leader and Sanskrit scholar based in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh, India, can speak twenty-two languages, including Sanskrit, Hindi, English, French, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Oriya, Gujarati, Punjabi, Marathi, Magadhi, Awadhi, and Braj.[45][46][47]
  • Karen Mok, Hong Kong-Chinese actress and singer, speaks English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian, German and French.[48]
  • 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. Speaks English, Tulu, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Tamil and Urdu.[49]
  • Dilip Kumar, an Indian actor who is fluent in Tamil, Urdu, Hindi, Hindko (his first language), Bhojpuri, English, Punjabi, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Pashto, and Persian.

Europe[edit]

  • Stéphane Lambiel Swiss Figure Skater, A native speaker of French, Lambiel also speaks Portuguese, High German (not Swiss German), and English and is learning Italian.
  • Boris Kodjoe, Austrian-American actor who fluently speaks German, English, French and some Spanish.[50]
  • José Mourinho is a Portuguese football manager, who can speak Spanish, Italian, French, Catalan and English in addition to his native language.[51]
  • Henrikh Mkhitaryan is an Armenian footballer. He is fluent in Armenian, English, French, Russian, German, Portuguese and Italian.
  • Daniel Brühl, a Spanish-German actor. He is fluent in Spanish, German, English, Catalan, French, and Portuguese.[52]
  • Nick Clegg, British politician and former Deputy Prime Minister (2010-2015). He speaks English, Spanish, French, Dutch, and German.
  • Frans Timmermans, a Dutch politician and diplomat, the First Vice-President of the European Commission, speaks six languages: Dutch, English, German, French, Italian and Russian.[53][54]
  • Tuva Novotny is a Swedish actress who speaks Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Czech, English, French and Spanish.[55]
  • Zdeno Chára is a Slovakian professional ice hockey player who speaks seven languages. These are: Slovak, Czech, Polish, Swedish, Russian, German and English.[56]
  • Mišo Juzmeski is a Macedonian writer who speaks nine languages: Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbian, English, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and German.[57]
  • Anatoly Moskvin, Russian linguist, arrested in 2011 after the bodies of twenty-six mummified young women were discovered in his home.
  • Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Armenian politician, first president of independent Armenia. He speaks at least seven languages (Armenian, Assyrian,[58] Russian, French, English, German, Arabic) and has published academic papers in three (Armenian, Russian, French).[59]
  • Daniel Tammet, an English savant, 'knows' ten languages: English, Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic, and Welsh. He learned Icelandic in one week for a TV show experiment.[60]
  • Benny Lewis, an Irish author and blogger who is fluent in six languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Esperanto, and Portuguese. He can speak Mandarin, American Sign Language, Dutch and Irish at a conversational level.[61] He has given a number of TEDx talks and has written a book about language learning published by HarperCollins.[62][63][64]
  • Connie Nielsen, a Danish actress who speaks eight languages: Danish, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, and a little Spanish.[65]
  • Sigrid Kaag, a Dutch politician and diplomat. She speaks six languages: Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish and Arabic.[66]
  • Ioannis Ikonomou, a translator for the European Commission in Brussels, knows thirty-two languages, including Greek, English, German, Italian, Russian, East African Swahili, Hebrew, Arabic, Mandarin and Bengali, as well as some dead languages such as Old Church Slavonic.[67]
  • Queen Silvia of Sweden speaks Swedish, as well as her native German, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and English. She has some fluency in Swedish Sign Language.[68]
  • Claudio Castagnoli is a professional wrestler who is fluent in English, German, Italian, French, and Swiss German.[69][70]
  • Arsène Wenger, football manager. He grew up speaking French and German and has learned English, Spanish and Italian.[71] He also knows some Japanese.[72]
  • Roy Hodgson, former football manager of the England national football team. He speaks fluent English, Norwegian, Swedish, German and Italian, as well as some Danish, French and Finnish.[73]
  • Gianni Infantino, current president of FIFA. He is fluent in Italian, French and German, and also knows English, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.[74]
  • Luís Figo, retired footballer. He is fluent in five languages: Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian and French.[75]
  • Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Kalmyk multi-millionaire businessman and politician. In addition to his native Kalmyk and Russian, he is fluent in English, Japanese, and a little Korean, Mongolian and Chinese.[76]
  • Clarence Seedorf, retired footballer and former football manager of A.C. Milan. Seedorf speaks six languages fluently:[77][78][79][80][81][82] Dutch, English,[83] Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and |Surinamese.
  • Richard Simcott of Chester, United Kingdom, can speak 16 languages[84] and uses about 30 languages in total to some degree.[85][86][87] Simcott can learn languages in very short periods of time, and has passed Common European Framework of Reference for Languages exams after 3 months of study.[citation needed]
  • Nico Rosberg, Formula One world champion, fluent in German, English, French, Italian and Spanish.[88]
  • Álvaro Soler, Spanish-German singer, is fluent in Catalan, Spanish, German, English, Italian and Japanese.[89]
  • Željko Joksimović, Serbian recording artist and multi-instrumentalist is fluent in Greek, English, Russian, Polish and French, as well as his native Serbian.[90]
  • Mateo Kovačić, Croatian footballer, speaks five languages: English, Croatian, German, Spanish and Italian.[91]
  • Carolina Kostner Italian Figure Skater, Kostner speaks Ladin (a Rhaeto-Romanic language), German, Italian, English, and French.
  • Annabelle Wallis English actress, speaks English, Portuguese, French and Spanish.
  • Jean-Claude Juncker Luxembourg politician former President of the European Commission, speaks Luxembourgish, English, French, German and Latin.
  • Viggo Mortensen Danish-American actor, Danish, English, French and Spanish

Oceania[edit]

Deceased[edit]

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

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.[103]
  • 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).[104][105]
  • 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:[106] 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.[107] 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.[108][109] At the age of 62 he started learning Russian and in less than two years wrote and spoke it.[110]
  • 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"[111] and "the founder of scientific Egyptology" have since been bestowed upon Champollion.[112] 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.[111][112][113]
  • 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'.[114] Moltke spoke and wrote German, Danish, French, English, Italian and Turkish.[115]

19th century[edit]

20th century[edit]

1900s[edit]

1910s[edit]

1920s[edit]

1930s[edit]

Post-1930s[edit]

  • Jayalalithaa (1948–2016), an Indian politician and actress, who could fluently speak Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, Malayalam and English.
  • Sergei Starostin (1953–2005), a Russian linguist recognised as one of the creators of hypothetical Sino-Caucasian language family. He claimed to have known up to fifteen languages and to read forty without a dictionary.[187]
  • Shahab Ahmed (1966–2015), a university professor and scholar of Islam from Pakistan who was "master of perhaps 15 languages".[188]

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