Posted by: rbbadger | January 17, 2012

Cardinal Mezzofanti and polyglots

CBC Radio has a short feature on polyglots, those who speak more than one language.  Some polyglots speak more than six languages fluently.  Dr Alexander Argüelles, a polyglot with whom I’ve corresponded in the past, has varying levels of proficiency in about 41 languages.  He taught himself Korean, by no means an easy task, since most materials for learning Korean are deficient in one way or another.  You can listen to this program by clicking here.

As far as polyglots go, the winner would have to be Cardinal Mezzofanti, a 19th century Italian cardinal who was said to have spoken some 72 languages and 38 of those fluently.  He even learned a Native American or two from missionaries visiting Rome.  It is said that he once picked up Ukrainian in two weeks in order to hear the confessions of two men who were due to be hanged.  The amazing thing  Another great churchman who was also very talented with language was Blessed John Paul II.  He spoke quite a few languages.  St. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia in the 19th century, spoke quite a few languages.  He was born in what is now the Czech Republic and spoke Czech and German.  He learned English and spoke Italian fluently.  As large numbers of Irish came to these shores in the 19th century, he learned that some of them did not speak English, but only spoke Irish Gaelic.  So he learned Irish Gaelic in order to hear confessions.  His facility with language endeared him to the immigrants in Philadelphia. 

Speaking of Korean, it is a wonderful language with a very unique grammar.  However, learning it isn’t easy, mostly because so many of the materials are deficient in some way, especially if they are published here.  Steve Kaufman is a polyglot who speaks quite a few languages and has picked up with Korean again.  I must say that I absolutely agree with some of his assessments on materials for learning Korean.


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