Emil Krebs 1867-1930 Mastered 68 languages and Studied 120 more
Giuseppe Mezzofanti 1774-1849 Mastered at least 39 languages
William Tyndale 1494-1536 Mastered 8 languages
Daniel Tammet Speaks 10 languages, invented 1
Richard Simcot Speaks at least 16 languages
This page is devoted to people who, not only spoke many languages, but are worthy of special mention.
Emil Krebs was a German polyglot and sinologist. He mastered 68 languages in speech and writing and studied 120 other languages.
Krebs originally studied law at the University of Berlin but became capitvated with the newly founded Oriental seminar department. He concluded he wished to make the study of foreign languages the primary objective of his education. He turned first to the study of Chinese, because it was regarded by many to be the most difficult language to learn. On 24 July 1890 he passed the interpreter's examination in Chinese at the seminar for eastern languages of Berlin University with "good" marks. Within two years, Emil Krebs had absorbed Chinese to such an extent that he had attained the level of a well-educated native. He eventually gained great respect among the Chinese, especially in the Waichiaopu, the Chinese Foreign Office. So good was his grasp of the language, that the Chinese authority EN even asked for his advice concerning grammatical questions of the Chinese language.
Krebs's private library of over 3500 volumes and writings in approximately 120 languages is stored in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. From the compilation and the range of literature written in the respective national languages and a language list personally written by him, it can be inferred that Krebs had mastered all the languages of today's European Union, as well as other languages such as "Egyptian" (possibly Coptic), Ainu, Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Burmese, Chinese, Georgian, Hebrew, Japanese, Javanese, Korean, Latin, Manchurian, Mongolian, Nivkh, Persian, Russian, Sanskrit, "Syrian" (perhaps Aramaic), Tibetan, Turkish, and Urdu.
His writings and books of language studies prove that he learned foreign languages not only through his native German, but also through previously mastered foreign languages. For example, through English he learned "Afghan" (Pashto or Dari), Burmese, Gujarati, Hindi, Irish, Sinhalese, and Portuguese, via Russian he learned Buryat, Finnish, Tatar, and Ukrainian; he learned Basque exclusively through Spanish, at the same time as he dealt with its dialects Guipuzcoa, Bizcaya, Laburdi, and Zuberoan. As "second languages," beside German, Krebs predominantly used English, French, Russian, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Latin, Spanish, and Arabic for learning and improving his knowledge of a new language. The New Testament, in 61 different languages, also aided his study.
Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti was an Italian cardinal and famed linguist and hyperpolyglot. Born and educated in Bologna, he completed his theological studies before he had reached the minimum age for ordination as a priest; he was ordained in 1797. In the same year, he became professor of Arabic at the University of Bologna. He later lost the position for refusing to take the oath of allegiance required by the Cisalpine Republic, which governed Bologna at the time.
Although he never left Italy in his life, he became so fluent in his languages that he was often tested by native speakers who would visit to see if he really was as good as they heard.
Those most often tested and constantly aknowledged that he spoke with "rare excellence" include: Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinical Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean, 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, Czechish, or Bohemian, Hungarian, Chinese, Syriac, Ge'ez, Amharic, Hindustani, Gujarati, Basque, Wallachian and Algonquin.
Compared to other polyglots on this page William Tyndales language ability doesnt look as impressive. BUT I thought he deserved a mention due to what he acheived with those 8 languages. Tyndale enrolled at Oxford in 1505, and grew up at the University. He received his Master’s Degree in 1515 at the age of twenty-one! He proved to be a gifted linguist. One of Tyndale’s associates commented that he was “so skilled in eight languages - Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, English, and German, that whichever he speaks, you might think it his native tongue!” This gift undoubtedly aided him in his successful evasion of the authorities during his years of exile from England.
Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into English. For this "crime" he became a target of the Catholic Church who eventually had him burned at the stake as a heretic in 1536. His last words were "Lord, open the king of England's eyes. This prayer was answered three years later, in the publication of King Henry VIII’s 1539 English “Great Bible”. Ironically, over 80% of the King James translation of the Bible is actually William Tyndales translation.
J.R.R.Tolkien 1892-1973 Mastered at least 13 languages and invented 7
Tolkien is most famously known for his books such The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion but he was a gifted linguist and his acheivements in this field are staggaring. He learned Latin, French, and German from his mother, and while at school he learned Middle English, Old English, Finnish, Gothic, Greek, Italian, Old Norse, Spanish, Welsh, and Medieval Welsh. He was also familiar with Danish, Dutch, Lombardic, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian,Swedish and older forms of modern Germanic and Slavonic languages, revealing his deep linguistic knowledge, above all of the Germanic languages. In a letter to W.H. Auden in 1955, Tolkien wrote about his discovery of Finnish, “It was like discovering a complete wine-filled cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavor never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me. . .”
His first job after WW1 was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W, including walrus, over which he struggled mightily. Tolkien translated the Book of Jonah from it's original Hebrew for the Jerusalem Bible. It was published in 1966.
He specialized in English philology at university and in 1915 graduated with Old Norse as special subject. At Oxford he gave courses in Old English heroic verse, history of English, various Old English and Middle English texts, Old and Middle English philology, introductory Germanic philology, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and Medieval Welsh.
Tolkien learned Latin, French, and German from his mother, and while at school he learned Middle English, Old English, Finnish, Gothic, Greek, Italian, Old Norse, Spanish, Welsh, and Medieval Welsh. He was also familiar with Danish, Dutch, Lombardic, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Swedish and older forms of modern Germanic and Slavonic languages, revealing his deep linguistic knowledge, above all of the Germanic languages.
He also invented languages, along with a mythology, history and even maps of constructed places. All of which came in useful when he started writing The Lord Of The Rings. The most developed of these are Quenya and Sindarin. Language and grammar for Tolkien was a matter of aesthetics and euphony, and Quenya in particular was designed from "phonaesthetic" considerations; it was intended as an "Elvenlatin", and was phonologically based on Latin, with ingredients from Finnish, Welsh, English, and Greek. A notable addition came in late 1945 with Adûnaic or Númenórean, a language of a "faintly Semitic flavour", connected with Tolkien's Atlantis legend.
Richard Simcott is a modern day polyglot and language enthusiast. He has taught languages and works as a language consultant for international projects. Richard became famous with language enthusiasts for his YouTube video in which he effortlessly speaks 16 languages as he explains his language learning journey, his family and his travells.
Richard currently speak English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Czech,
Rather than me write too much about Richard and risk getting it wrong, click here for his offical page. He truely is an interesting man, and from what i've heared from people who've met him, his a very nice man too!!
Daniel Tammet is an English writer, essayist and autistic savant. He speaks French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Estonian, Icelandic, Welsh and Esperanto, as well as his own invented language, "Mänti", which has about 1,000 words. Daniel learned the Icelandic language in just one week and was subsiquently invited onto an Icelandic talkshow to show how much he'd learned. He coped well and the interviewers were impressed with his skill. He has been studied by brain experts not only for his language abilities but also for his unique way of thinking and seeing the world. Daniel has linguistic, numerical and visual synesthesia. This means that his perception of words, numbers and colors are woven together into a new way of perceiving the world. Able to work out complex mathematical equations in his head, he also holds the European record for remembering and recounting the number Pi to 22,514 decimal places.
Professor Alexander Argüelles Speaks 38 languages
Alexander Sabino Argüelles is an American linguist notable for his work on Korean. He is highly committed to the learning of foreign languages, and was profiled in Michael Erard's Babel No More. He currently teaches at the American University in the Emirates. Prof. Argüelles' commitment to language learning is nothing short of astounding. He is the inventor of the shadowing method which has proved remarkably effective in attaining language accuracy fluency. His own beleif of rating fluency is very strict, and by his own estimations he is 99.99% fluent in 22 languages including: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Old Norse, Middle High German, Old French, Latin, Middle English, Middle Dutch, Old Occtian, Old Swedish, Portuguese, Catalan, Norwegian (MM & BM), Danish, Modern Provençal, Esperanto, Afrikaans, Icelandic, Russian, Arabic MSA, Korean, Persian, Modern Greek, Frisian, Old English, Old High German, Romanian, Gothic, Ancient Greek, Irish Gaelic and Hindi.
As well as keeping an academic career and having a family he still finds time to study languages hours every day and runs his own website here. He is, by far, the most commited language learner I've ever seen.