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Alexander Arguelles

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Marcus
Groupie
Australia
Joined 5753 days ago

55 posts - 55 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: French, Spanish

 
 Message 9 of 71
03 April 2005 at 1:15am | IP Logged 
Wow, great story. Really inspiring stuff, although the number of languages you have studied makes my head spin!
1 person has voted this message useful



ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5798 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 10 of 71
04 April 2005 at 8:09am | IP Logged 
KingM, finding room in my repertoire for Kiswahili would really be difficult. Managing the number of languages I try to handle is really a very delicate balancing game. Simply adding one more would be akin to the straw that broke the camel’s back. Substituting would also be delicate because it would throw things off kilter.

Victor, while I may have time to put effort into learning other languages, I don’t feel like I can balance knowing any more until when and if I can get everything I know already up to the level of my Western European languages. Everything includes Hindi-Urdu + Sanskrit, and at that point I should be able to transfer skills to other Indic languages. I am content to wait until old age for that because I do not wish to inherit my father’s collection of Indological works until many decades hence. I could certainly handle more if I were a “conversing polyglot” or even a “languages-for-the-sake-of-languages polyglot,” as I once thought I was, but I am a “reading polyglot,” which is the most exacting kind.

Administrator, I would love to give you a straight answer, but I cannot because I neither read newspapers nor watch TV broadcasts. Clearly, though, I get what you are asking, namely, which (modern living) languages do I know best? Obviously, the ones at the heads of the lists of Germanic and Romance languages, the ones that I have been studying for 20 or 30 years, the ones that I have lived in for months or even years at a time, namely French, Spanish, and German. However, my Dutch and Swedish or my Italian and Portuguese are probably not far behind because I have been immersed in these for at least several weeks at a time, several times. However again, although I have not yet had actual contact with, e.g., living Icelandic or Romanian, my past experiences being immersed in Romance and Germanic languages indicates that I could probably function fully in these as well if I could ever find the ideal situation of being completely immersed in them, though it might take me a couple of days to get my bearings, while in those at the heads of the list I could easily hit the ground running. At any rate, I never ignore the spoken aspect of any modern languages—indeed, learning how to speak them properly is the fundamental basis of my being able to read them.
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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5770 days ago

102 posts - 105 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 
 Message 11 of 71
04 April 2005 at 10:05am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir, with your vast knowledge of languages (and families) what in your opinion is:

a) The language you enjoy speaking the most?
b) The most beautiful language? (oral & written)
c) The language that should be the 'international language'? (if not English)
d) The language that should be every native English speakers second language and why?
e) If you could only speak/write/understand one, which would it be?

I'd be very appreciative if you had the time to quickly give your answers to this Ardaschir, as you are not only a linguist but a polyglot with a passion for the craft also.

Regards,
Eric

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administrator
Hexaglot
Forum Admin
Switzerland
FXcuisine.com
Joined 5918 days ago

3094 posts - 2986 votes 
12 sounds
Speaks: French*, EnglishC2, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 12 of 71
04 April 2005 at 10:49am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir, thank you for your extensive and honest answer. My question is grounded in my personal experience. I have to use the languages I speak on a professional basis every day or so. This means that, when talking to a polyglot, I always try to consider the person's abilities in terms of the way I use those languages, namely, to conduct business.

Would it be possible for you to give us a list of your languages according to some absolute criteria of fluency level, for instance, being able to read a certain type of printed material (litterature, monograph, academic article, popular newspaper, etc...), being able to understand a certain type of oral material (talk on the street, academic discussion, TV, movie, etc...) or active oral fluency by the type of functions you can perform in?

I understand that polyglot, like lawyers, do not like to give absolute answers about the 'number of languages they speak' and that there are many degrees of fluency, but if you could give categorize those languages according to your own categories, rather than ordering them by fluency with no absolute reference, it would be very interesting.

If this is not possible, no problem!

Thanks
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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5798 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 13 of 71
05 April 2005 at 2:18am | IP Logged 
Eric, I hope you are asking these questions out of sheer curiosity and not because you are going to use my answers to guide you in your choice of languages because these are mainly very subjective questions.

a) The language you enjoy speaking the most?

I confess to being fickle and promiscuous. I have no constant love, but rather an unbroken string of affairs.


b) The most beautiful language? (oral & written)

The problem with the oral beauty of a language is that it disappears when you learn it. Once you understand what people are saying, you hear the meaning of their words, not the sound. Thus, I still think Kiswahili sounds beautiful only because I don't really understand it, and since this beauty is the main attraction of the language for me, I can live without learning it because I know that I would no longer be able to hear the beauty once I began understanding it better.

The written beauty of languages seems to be a bit more constant. Even though I can read both Persian and Arabic rather well now, I still really enjoy the look of their scripts.


c) The language that should be the 'international language'? (if not English)

This is a fascinating but ultimately moot question - the international language will be that of the leading military, economic, and cultural power. However, I can think of three good candidates for "shoulds":

A) Latin. It was the international language for almost two millennia so why shouldn't it be still? Are modern people incapable of learning what their ancestors could? If so, then there is:

B) Esperanto. The case for it is really impeccable. Easy in every sense for speakers of other European languages, far easier than any other European language for speakers of other languages, and culturally neutral. However, many people cannot get over the artificiality of it, so that leaves:

C) Spanish. Spanish, as the largest Romance language, provides the best link to Latin, and it already has the greatest geographic spread of any of the languages with the greatest numbers of speakers, of which it is arguably number two already in the world.


d) The language that should be every native English speaker's second language and why?

Hmm, well, there is no question but that French has had the greatest formative influence on the development of the English langauge, so that is probably a good place to start.

e) If you could only speak/write/understand one, which would it be?
Oh my God, what a terrible thought! This is like a torturer asking me which of my limbs I would like to retain when the others are surgically severed! I cannot give a non-hysterical answer to this. It's like something out of Sophie's Choice -- what am I to say, "No! No! No! AAAAAhhh, all right, take the others, leave me Persian..."???

Edited by Ardaschir on 05 April 2005 at 2:21am

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5798 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 14 of 71
05 April 2005 at 2:49am | IP Logged 
Administrator, I must stress over and over again that I feel what I have really learned best is not a grouping of individual languages but rather two language families, namely Germanic and Romance. Perhaps I have not explained this well, perhaps it is difficult to understand for those who do not yet have this vantage point. Incidentally, I feel that you yourself could easily attain this perspective by learning just a few more dialects of Latin.

When you know a whole family of languages, you naturally know those best that you have actively studied the longest, but there is so much transfer that goes on between them that you in a sense even know languages that you have not yet studied. For me, a great deal of "how well" I know a language from these families depends not on me but on the circumstances the language give me. As I sit writing here and now I do not know Italian quite as well as I know French, but simply put me in Italy, surrounded by its ambiance and frequencies, and I certainly would. On my very first encounter with some of the smaller languages in these groups, such as Frisian, I understood pretty much everything, and I have subsequently studied them in a comparative philological context, so I must know them much better, but still certainly not on par with German.

Doing business? What can I say? I regularly chair meetings in French, and I recently bought a used car in Portuguese without getting cheated. When I lived in Germany, Mexico, and Korea I took care of everything in those languages...

A meaningful standard of fluency for me is the ability to read an artistic work of literature such as a novel by a difficult author like William Faulkner or James Joyce. How many native English speakers can do this? How many do do this? I call it "the airplane test": take a 400-page novel of this type on an intercontinental flight and read it cover to cover by the time you land. If you remained engrossed and enthralled the entire time, you really know the language. You need to know about 20,000 words in order to do this, while you only need 10,000 for sophisticated conversation, and far fewer for daily needs such as business or study in a specialized field. In order to read a novel "fluently," you should not need to have recourse to a dictionary, but you should profit greatly from every single word you do look up if you choose to use one.

Books I've read recently in this fashion in modern living Romance and Germanic languages include:

Hermann Broch, Der Tod des Vergil
Selma Lagerlöf, Gösta Berlings saga
Hella S. Haasse, Het woud der verwachting
Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann
Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad
Jorge Amado, Gabriela Cravo e Canela
Umberto Eco, Il Pendolo di Foucault

The ability to speak a language well is even harder to talk about without boasting. Some people can express themselves well, but with offensive accents or fossilized mistakes that they make over and over. I don't think I have either of these traits in any of the above languages.

Then there are language in other families. I know that my Russian is not as good as any Romance or Germanic language that I have ever had any active exposure to, and yet I have passed the airplane test and expressed myself adequately on every topic when I was in Saint Petersburg.

Then there are exotics such as Persian that I can now read nearly as well as Russian. I've never had the chance to speak it, but I'm sure that I could.

And I try to live in Arabic now...

I'm sorry, "fluency" is a nebulous concept that becomes ever more evasive as you try to grasp it.
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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5770 days ago

102 posts - 105 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 
 Message 15 of 71
05 April 2005 at 4:45am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir, thanks for your responses, curiosity only.

I must admit prior to posting these questions I anticipated these would be your answers:

a) The language you enjoy speaking the most?

Korean.

b) The most beautiful language? (oral & written)

oral: French written: Arabic.

c) The language that should be the 'international language'? (if not English)

Spanish, Esperanto or German. (don't ask me why German!)

I never thought you'd mention Latin though.

d) The language that should be every native English speakers second language and why?

I did anticipate Spanish here, although I thought French might be mentioned.

e) If you could only speak/write/understand one, which would it be?

I thought you might pick French or Spanish. (excluding English)

Maybe it's just me, but I think French at times sounds divine, yet that's perhaps because I am "on the outside looking in" and after you understand it you only hear the meanings not the sounds, as you have mentioned.

Regards,
Eric

Edited by Eric on 05 April 2005 at 4:47am

1 person has voted this message useful



ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5798 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 16 of 71
06 April 2005 at 4:26am | IP Logged 
Eric, your last question about knowing only one language means one and only one, period, and not one foreign language? That is an even more horrific thought to me! To not know any foreign language is the most unpleasantly foreign thought I can imagine!

As for Latin as a world language, why indeed should that be strange? As long as it was held up as one, people were able to learn it and use it as such. Now that it is not, it seems impossibly hard. However, it and it alone provides a chain linking all of Western Civilization for more than 2000 years. It is also beautiful and elegant! As long as I only knew the language as a "dead" written one, I felt excited about it out of a sense of obligation only. I tried for a long time to get decent recordings of it as a spoken language, but almost all of those few available are absurd. However, the tapes that accompany G.D.A. Sharpley's Beginner's Latin really brought it to life for me and made my already solid reading knowledge resonate within my soul. If I could find a local one, I would most certainly join a society for the promotion of conversational Latin. I don't think it would call for it, but even if it did, I think that being able to express myself fluently in this tongue would be worth the sacrifice of a good number of others.


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