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Interpreters in the Levant
Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > Ancient period > Interpreters in the Levant

The race of Dragomans has never ceased to flourish in the Levant. M. Antoine d'Abbadie informed me that there are many families in which this office, and sometimes the consular appointment for, which it is an indispensable qualification, have been hereditary for the last two or three centuries \ and that it is very common to find among them men and women who, sufficiently for all the ordinary purposes of conversation, speak Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Italian, Spanish, English, German, and Trench, with little or no accent. This accomplishment is not confined to one single nation. Mr. Burton, in his "Pilgrimage to Medinah and Meccah," mentions an Afghan who"spoke five or six languages." He speaks of another, a Koord settled at Medinah, who " spoke five languages in perfection." The traveller, he assures us, "may hear the Cairene donkey-boys shouting three or four European dialects with an accent as good as his own;" and he " has frequently known Armenians (to whom, among all the Easterns, he assigns the first place as linguists) speak, besides their mother tongue, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and Hindostanee, and at the same time display an equal aptitude for the Occidental languages." But of all the Eastern linguists of the present day the most notable seem to be the ciceroni who take charge of the pilgrims at Mecca, many of whom speak fluently every one of the numerous languages which prevail over the vast region of the Moslem. Mr. Burton fell in at Mecca with a one-eyed Hadji, who spoke fluently and with good accent Turkish, Persian, Hindostani, Pushtu, Armenian, English, French, and Italian. In the " Turkish Annals" of Naima, already cited, the learned Yankuli Mohammed Effendi, a contemporary of Sultan Murad Khan, is described as " a perfect linguist."

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