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What the Hell is a Hyperpolyglott?

Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners

According to author Michael Erand, if you speak 11 or more languages you’re what’s known as a hyperpolyglott. I was actually made aware of this interesting book while listening to Canadian Public Radio Program recently. I was fascinated by the discussion because, as someone who has studied languages both in college and for personal gratification, I’ve always found learning foreign languages a daunting and incredibly challenging discipline. I have personally known one hyperpolyglott. Let me tell you a quick story about this person:

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I was a Classics Major at the University of Utah in the early 1980′s and my favorite professor, Dr. Gerald Gresseth, surprised me one day. I was taking a senior-level Greek Drama class. We were reading Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound in the original Classical Greek. Let me just say, I was never totally proficient in Classical Greek and this particular class was incredibly difficult. In spite of this, Dr. Gresseth was an incredibly good instructor. Now consider this: I had been taking classes from him for 4 years and I knew that he was a well-respected scholar and linguist; however, nothing prepared me for the day when he came into class and looked a the blackboard which was filled with Chinese by the previous instructor. He looked at me and asked, “Mr. Lupori, do you know Chinese?” “No Dr., I don’t.” At that point he smiled and said, “Well, let me tell you, this is fascinating!” He then proceeded to read the text to me translating it into English as if he were reading a newspaper………I was dumbfounded. I suspected the knew a number of the Romance Languages, Greek, Latin and I knew he even taught Sanskrit….but Chinese? I then asked him how many languages he knew and he said he could manage to understand about 20 or so……….

To this day, I struggle with Italian. My German is more than rusty and I’ve all but forgotten Latin and Greek. What I haven’t done is lost my passion for languages, linguistics and the way in which they force me to look at the world in a different way.