A polyglot is a person who uses multiple languages. 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 six or more languages fluently. Other scholars apply the label to speakers of even more languages – twelve, sixteen, or in the most extreme cases even fifty or more.
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 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, seepolyglotism.
The 2012 book Babel No More 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",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.
Timothy Doner, then a sixteen-year-old New York 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, Italian, Turkish, Indonesian, Dutch, Xhosa, Swahili, Hindi and Ojibwe. In June 2012, Doner published a 15-minute video of himself speaking twenty languages on his YouTube channel "PolyglotPal".
Dr. Carlos do Amaral Freire, a Brazilian scholar, linguist, and translator who has publicly stated that he has studied over 100 languages, is considered one of the greatest scholars of the 21st century by the University of Cambridge. He has translated sixty languages into Portuguese and is engaged in a project that is more than forty years old to study two new languages every year.
George Fernandes, an Indian politician who is well-versed in ten languages: Konkani, English, Hindi, Tulu, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Malayalam and Latin. As of April 2013, Fernandes is suffering from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
Ali Manikfan, is an Indian marine researcher, ecologist, shipbuilder, and a polyglot. Besides his mother tongueDivehi (Mahl), he learned English, Hindi and Malayalam, Arabic, Latin, French, Russian, German, Sinhalese, Persian, Sanskrit, Tamil and Urdu. His other areas of interest are marine biology, marine research, geography, astronomy, social science, traditional shipbuilding, education, fisheries, agriculture and horticulture.
Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Armenian politician, first president of independent Armenia. He speaks at least seven languages (Armenian, Assyrian, Russian, French, English, German, Arabic) and has published academic papers in three (Armenian, Russian, French).
Benny Lewis, an Irish traveller who speaks more than a dozen languages including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Esperanto, German, Irish, and American sign language. He has given a number of TEDx talks and has written a book about language learning published by HarperCollins.
Cleopatra VII (69–30 BC), the last ruling Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, could, according to the Roman biographerPlutarch, speak nine languages and was the only member of her dynasty who could speak Egyptian as well as her native Greek.
John Milton (1608–1674), an English poet who is famous for the epic work Paradise Lost, could speak English, Latin, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, Aramaic, Syriac, and Old English. Milton coined 630 terms in the English language.
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.
Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774–1849), an Italian Cardinal, spoke the following 39 languages fluently: 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.
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" and "the founder of scientific Egyptology" have since been bestowed upon Champollion. 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.
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.
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, as well as developing a working knowledge of several native African languages while living in Ethiopia.
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 many entire books, and was capable of speaking eight languages: Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.
José Rizal (1861–1896), was a Filipino nationalist, writer and revolutionary. He was able to speak 22 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, Chavacano, Cebuano, Ilocano, and Subanun.
Harold Williams (1876–1928), a New Zealand journalist and linguist, spoke more than 58 languages.
Hrachia Adjarian (1876-1953), Armenian linguist. He spoke Armenian, Greek, Hebrew, French, English, German, Italian, Persian, Latin, Sanskrit, and Laz.
Martin Buber (1878–1965), German philosopher, who "spoke German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, English, French and Italian and read, in addition to these, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Dutch and other languages".
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.
Harinath De (1877–1911) could speak 34 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 14.
Nathan Leopold Jr. (1904–1971) was born to a wealthy Jewish family. He spoke his first words at 4 months. He reportedly had an intelligence quotient of 210, and claimed to have been able to speak 27 languages by the time he was 19. More likely he was only fluent in 9 or 10 languages. He was involved in the murder of Robert "Bobby" Franks with friend Richard Loeb. He served in prison for 33 years before receiving parole.
George Campbell (1912–2004), a Scottish polyglot and a linguist at the BBC, who could speak and write fluently in at least 44 languages and had a working knowledge of perhaps 20 others.
Meredith Gardner (1912–2002), an American linguist and codebreaker. German, Old High German, Middle High German, Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Lithuanian, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, and Japanese.
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.
Ahmad Hasan Dani (1920–2009), a Pakistani intellectual, archaeologist, historian, and linguist, who mastered 35 languages.
Michael Ventris (1922–1956), an English linguist and architect. French, German, Swiss German, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Spanish, some Turkish, and Modern Greek.
Hudson, Richard (2008). "Word grammar, cognitive linguistics, and second language learning and teaching". In P. Robinson and N. Ellis. Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. Routledge. pp. 89–113.
Hakobyan, Tatul (27 March 2009). "Armenia is a homeland for the Assyrians, who have no homeland". The Armenian Reporter. Together with other languages, Levon Ter-Petrossian, the first president of Armenia, also knew Assyrian.
Լևոն Տեր-Պետրոսյան. avproduction.am (in Armenian). Տիրապետում է հայերեն, ռուսերեն, ֆրանսերեն, անգլերեն, գերմաներեն, արաբերեն, ինչպես նաև մի քանի «մեռած» լեզուների։ Հեղինակ է ավելի քան 70 գիտական աշխատությունների, որոնք հրապարակվել են հայերեն, ռուսերեն, ֆրանսերեն լեզուներով
"Mithridates, who was king of twenty-two nations, administered their laws in as many languages, and could harangue each of them, without employing an interpreter:" Pliny the Elder, Natural History, VII, 24.
"she could pass from one language to another; so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter; to most of them she spoke herself, as to the Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes, Parthians, and many others, whose language she had learnt; which was all the more surprising because most of the kings, her predecessors, scarcely gave themselves the trouble to acquire the Egyptian tongue, and several of them quite abandoned the Macedonian." Plutarch, Antony, 27.3-4