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Sebastian Heine

 Language Learning Forum : Polyglots Post Reply
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William Camden
Hexaglot
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United Kingdom
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 Message 9 of 32
08 November 2007 at 10:13am | IP Logged 
daristani wrote:
Gippert used to run a seminar on Zazaki (an Iranian language, similar to Kurdish, spoken in Turkey) at Frankfurt University. I once saw him deliver a speech to a gathering of Zazas on his theory that Zazaki had descended from Parthian. He gave his presentation in German, and I very much doubt that he could have done it in Zazaki.



Even many Zaza do not speak Zazaki. Like Kurdish, it is discouraged by the Turkish authorities and the Zaza have been subjected to Turkification campaigns. Their part of Turkey, known for rebellions, is hard to visit and practically a military base.

Edited by William Camden on 08 November 2007 at 10:13am

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Gilgamesh
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 Message 10 of 32
08 November 2007 at 12:56pm | IP Logged 
Interesting article. I found his 'list' on a site. The article says:

Es sind...Altpersisch, Avestisch, Pahlavi, Baktrisch, Sogdisch, Sakisch, Pashto, Parachi, Ormuri, Wakhi, Yaghnobi, Sanglichi, Ishkahmi, Ossetisch, Yidgha-Munji, Urdu, Hindi, Farsi, Panjabi, Sindhi, Kurmandschi-Kurdisch, Baluchi, Sanskrit, Pali, Gandhari, Latein, Griechisch, Altirisch, Mittelkymrisch, Gotisch, Usbekisch, Aramäisch, Arabisch, Französisch, Englisch.


Pretty impressive.
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William Camden
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 Message 11 of 32
08 November 2007 at 3:50pm | IP Logged 
daristani wrote:

In general, though, I think that, except for a very small number of truly extraordinary genius types, the Law of Strawberry Jam applies to language study: the wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.


This was apparently the view of those who implemented simultaneous translation at the Nuremberg Trials (1945-6). Interpreters who spoke two languages, their native one and one foreign, were better at it than those who knew a number of languages.
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castiwo
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 Message 12 of 32
09 November 2007 at 9:04am | IP Logged 
The list above doesn't mention 'Italianische', he told me he speaks very fluent Italian.

It makes a total of 36 languages then.... awesome!
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Scott Horne
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Canada
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 Message 13 of 32
09 November 2007 at 9:32pm | IP Logged 
Without wishing to detract from Heine's purported accomplishments, I must caution against the credulity with which accounts of this kind are too often received.

My first impression is that "spricht 35 Sprachen" is a considerable distortion: a lot of those languages are classical ones with no tradition of active use in modern times (unlike Latin, Sanskrit, and even Classical Greek), and it's very unlikely that anyone speaks them or even does a significant amount of writing in them. Heine's knowledge of these is probably limited to reading.

Someone sent me a link to an article in which Heine posed for a photo in a library. It's funny that the book visible in the photo is a Pashto-Russian dictionary even though Heine is not reported as knowing Russian. And that dictionary may well be one of the most important reference works on the Pashto language, Heine's favourite.

There seems to be an attempt to puff the number up by counting lots of very similar Indic and Iranian languages. Most of the languages claimed are on one of two closely related dialect continua: one covering a large group of Indic languages spoken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwestern India; the other covering many Iranian languages spoken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. I once saw a claim of a few dozen "languages" by someone who was obviously eager to drive the number up by any means at all. As I recall, the list included a handful of major Western European languages--and a heap of dialects thereof.

Whenever I see a long laundry list of languages that someone allegedly "speaks", I suspect that the claim is exaggerated--not necessarily by the person himself. Just this week I heard someone claim that I know "eleven or twelve" languages. I have never said anything of the kind myself. When asked how many languages I know, I never give a bald number; instead, I say that there are five (English, Mandarin, French, Spanish, and Latin) that I speak with near-native skill, another three or so (Portuguese, Japanese, American Sign Language) that I speak pretty well but not fluently, various others in which I can function for general purposes, some in which I would have to revive my skill, some that I can only read, some of which I have a very fragmented knowledge.... Often the listener counts these languages off on his fingers, heedless of my comments about my level of skill. But anyone can "speak" a large number of languages if the bar is set low enough. A tenuous claim to a dozen languages may reflect less of an achievement than a solid grasp of two.

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apparition
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 Message 14 of 32
09 November 2007 at 11:15pm | IP Logged 
Welcome to the forum, Scott.

I agree with what you're saying. Many times people with little experience in learning languages will insist on a 'count' and someone who claims fluency in five languages is thereby 'better' than a person who claims four. Bald numbers cannot possibly cover the complexity that is a language, anyway.

If you've been around the site before signing-up, I'm sure you've seen Professor Arguelles' lengthy explication of how much he knows of the many languages he has studied. His explanation is much like yours. It's very much a continuum, is it not?
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Iversen
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berejst.dk
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 Message 15 of 32
10 November 2007 at 10:00am | IP Logged 
Ideally you should be allowed to specify your level in reading, writing, thinking, listening and speaking, with the option of specifying your fluency, error-level and robustness for each skill. Plus those areas where you 'know all the words'and those where you are abysmally ignorant. The number of languages of a certain person is a fuzzy notion, and we probably have drawn up our language lists from very different criteria. Or worse: others have made the calculation without taking into consideration the level of each language on the list.

I have described my own criteria in other threads. I prefer using performance oriented criteria, and in my opinion it must be the least developed skill that set the level, unless otherwise indicated. For me that is speaking ability, so my criterion for claiming at least basic fluency is that I would be able to stay a couple of weeks somewhere, speaking only the target language while sticking more or less to my normal range of conversation topics and to my normal reading habits. However I would not expect to know all the names of the local plants and animals, and I would certainly not promise to speak without errors here and there.

Purely passive languages should either not figure at all on a list of languages of languages spoken or just at the lowest level (after all being able to read a language is an excellent starting point for learning the active skills later). I think it is possible to learn to speak even extinct languages - after all I had a teacher once who could speak Ancient French, and some people apparently learn to speak Latin - but it must be hard to do without audio sources. Dialects and very close languages should only count if you can express yourself consistently in them (and for me it means that I can't rely on just exposure, I have to study them actively). Languages that are too 'rusty' to be used should not be dismissed out of hand, but an hour or so with a book or TV should be enough to call them back into service, - otherwise they can't count as active languages.

I have no idea how many languages Heine or Gippert or others know according these principles (but probably quite a lot). However I know where I am on the scale, and if I could get there despite a mediocre memory, lack of concentration, unorganized study habits, a long pause (1982-2006) and no external pressure, then I'm sure that there must be people out there who are way beyond me in linguistical prowess. It is just a matter of finding them. Maybe the true world masters just prefer to stay anonymous in order not to get their merits discussed publicly.



Edited by Iversen on 10 November 2007 at 4:49pm

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Marc Frisch
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Germany
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 Message 16 of 32
10 November 2007 at 2:20pm | IP Logged 
Gilgamesh wrote:
Interesting article. I found his 'list' on a site. The article says:

Es sind...Altpersisch, Avestisch, Pahlavi, Baktrisch, Sogdisch, Sakisch, Pashto, Parachi, Ormuri, Wakhi, Yaghnobi, Sanglichi, Ishkahmi, Ossetisch, Yidgha-Munji, Urdu, Hindi, Farsi, Panjabi, Sindhi, Kurmandschi-Kurdisch, Baluchi, Sanskrit, Pali, Gandhari, Latein, Griechisch, Altirisch, Mittelkymrisch, Gotisch, Usbekisch, Aramäisch, Arabisch, Französisch, Englisch.

Pretty impressive.


I doubt that he speaks more than 5 or 6 of those fluently. I mean, how
can you possible learn to speak languages such as Gothic fluently?
There aren't many original texts in Gothic (IIRC only some translations
of passages from the Bible), so probably it's impossible to learn to
speak Gothic fluently due to the lack of Gothic words known.
I'm pretty sure he's studied all of those, but most likely for purely
philological reasons.


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