List of polyglots

This is a list of notable people who, according to reliable sources, know six or more languages.

LivingEdit

AfricaEdit

  • Peter Turkson (1948–), Ghanaian Catholic cardinal. In addition to his native language, Fante, he speaks a number of other Ghanaian languages, as well as English, French, Italian, German, and Hebrew. He also knows Latin and Greek.[1]
  • Cyril Ramaphosa (1952–), current President of South Africa. Speaks English, Afrikaans, Venda, Tsonga, Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho, Setswana, Northern Sotho, and Southern Ndebele.[citation needed]
  • Dikembe Mutombo (1966–), Congolese former basketball player. Speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Tshiluba, Swahili, Lingala, and two other Central African languages.[2]
  • Alick Macheso (1968–), Zimbabwean musician. Speaks Shona, English, Ndau, Chichewa, Sena, Venda, and Lingala.[citation needed]
  • Trevor Noah (1984–), South African comedian. Speaks English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Tsonga, and some German.[3]

AmericasEdit

  • Pope Francis (1936–), current leader of the Catholic Church. Born in Argentina and of Italian descent, he speaks Spanish and Italian natively. In addition, he knows Latin, and can get by in German, French, Portuguese, and English.[4]
  • Ivan Argüelles (1939–), American poet. He knows most of the Romance languages (including Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Provençal, and Romanian) and a number of Indic languages (Hindi, Bengali, Sinhala, and Nepali), as well as Persian, German, Russian, Arabic, and some Chinese. He has also studied Latin, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Old Scandinavian, and Old Icelandic.[5]
  • Ziad Fazah (1954–), Liberian-born Lebanese language teacher, now living in Brazil. He is famous for claiming to speak fifty-nine languages, and for a time was listed in The Guinness Book of Records. It is unclear how many languages he can in fact speak.[5]
  • Andrew Divoff (1955–), Venezuelan actor and producer. Speaks English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Catalan, Portuguese, and Russian.[6] At one time he also knew Romanian, but forgot it through lack of use.[7]
  • Julie Payette (1963–), current Governor General of Canada. Speaks French and English natively, and can converse in Spanish, Italian, Russian, and German.[8]
  • Alexander Argüelles (1964–), American linguist. He speaks most of the Germanic and Romance languages (in particular, German, Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian), as well as Russian, Korean, and Arabic, and he has a reading knowledge of many more languages, such as Persian and Old Norse.[5][9][10]
  • Alberto Lati (1978–), Mexican sports journalist. Speaks Spanish, English, Hebrew, Portuguese, German, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese, French, Greek, and Zulu with varying degrees of fluency.[11]
  • Pete Buttigieg (1982–), American politician. Speaks English, Norwegian, Spanish, French, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, and Dari with varying degrees of fluency.[12]

AsiaEdit

  • Lokesh Chandra (1927–), Indian scholar. He knows Sanskrit, Pali, Hindi, Avestan, Old Persian, Greek, Latin, French, German, English, Russian, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Japanese, and Indonesian.[13]
  • Jeong Su-il (1934–), Chinese-born North Korean spy. Speaks Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Malay, Arabic, Persian, Russian, French, Spanish, German, and English.[14]
  • Mickey Curtis (1938–), Japanese actor and singer. Speaks Japanese, English, German, French, Italian, and Thai.[15]
  • Bartholomew I of Constantinople (1940–), current leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Speaks Turkish, Modern Greek, English, German, French, and Italian. He also knows Ancient Greek and Latin.[citation needed]
  • Malcolm Ranjith (1947–), current Archbishop of Colombo. Speaks Sinhala, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Tamil, and Indonesian. He also knows Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.[16]
  • Rambhadracharya (1950–), Indian religious leader. Speaks English, French, Sanskrit, Hindi, Bhojpuri, Maithily, Oria, Gujrati, Punjabi, Marathi, Maghdhi, Awadhi, and Braj, as well as a number of other Indic languages.[17]
  • Péter Frankl (1953–), Hungarian mathematician, now living in Japan. Speaks eleven languages, including Hungarian, Japanese, Chinese, English, and French.[18]
  • Kamal Haasan (1954–), Indian actor. Speaks Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, Marathi, and English.[19]
  • Shabnam Mausi (1955–), Indian politician. Speaks twelve languages.[20]
  • Naela Chohan (1958–), Pakistani diplomat. Speaks Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Persian, English, French, and Spanish.[21]
  • Prakash Raj (1965–), Indian actor. Speaks Kannada, Tulu, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, and English.[22]
  • Priya Anand (1986–), Indian actress. Speaks Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Spanish, and English.[23]

EuropeEdit

  • Pope Benedict XVI (1927–), former leader of the Catholic Church. In addition to his native language, German, he speaks English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Latin, and can read Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew.[24]
  • John C. Wells (1939–), British phonetician. He studied Latin and Classical Greek at university, and speaks English, Esperanto, German, Welsh, French, Spanish, Italian, and Modern Greek with varying degrees of fluency. He also has some knowledge of Polish, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Japanese.[25]
  • Queen Silvia of Sweden (1943–), spouse of King Carl XVI Gustaf. The daughter of a German father and a Brazilian mother, she speaks German and Portuguese natively. She also knows Spanish, French, English, and Swedish,[26] and has some knowledge of Swedish sign language.[27]
  • Levon Ter-Petrosyan (1945–), former President of Armenia. He speaks Armenian, Russian, French, English, German, Arabic, and Assyrian. He also knows a number of ancient languages.[28][29]
  • Ranga Yogeshwar (1959–), Luxembourgish physicist and science journalist. Speaks Luxembourgish, German, English, French, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam.[30]
  • Johan Vandewalle (1960–), Belgian linguist. In 1987, at the age of twenty-six, he won the Polyglot of Flanders/Babel Prize, after demonstrating communicative competence in nineteen languages (Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bashkir, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Kyrgyz, Persian, Russian, Swahili, Tajik, Tatar, Turkish, Turkmen, Tuvan, Uyghur, and Uzbek).[5][31]
  • Frans Timmermans (1961–), Dutch politician. Speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Italian, and Russian.[32]
  • Sigrid Kaag (1961–), Dutch politician. Speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish, and Arabic.[33]
  • José Mourinho (1963–), Portuguese football manager. Speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, Catalan, and English.[34]
  • Ioannis Ikonomou (1964–), translator at the European Commission. He speaks thirty-two modern languages, including twenty-one of the twenty-four official languages of the European Union (the three exceptions being Estonian, Maltese, and Irish). Among the other languages that he speaks are Russian, Bengali, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, and Mandarin. He has also studied a number of ancient languages, such as Old Church Slavoniic, Classical Armenian, Sanskrit, Sogdian, and Assyro-Babylonian.[35]
  • Connie Nielsen (1965–), Danish actress. Speaks Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, English, German, French, Italian, and some Spanish.[36]
  • Mišo Juzmeski (1966–), Macedonian writer. Speaks Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbian, English, Dutch, German, French, Italian, and Spanish.[citation needed]
  • Anatoly Moskvin (1966–), Russian linguist, arrested in 2011 after twenty-six mummified bodies were discovered in his home. He has studied thirteen languages.[37]
  • Mikheil Saakashvili (1967–), former President of Georgia. Speaks Georgian, Russian, Ukrainian, English, and French,[38] and has some command of Spanish[39] and Ossetian.[40]
  • Gianni Infantino (1970–), current President of FIFA. Born in Switzerland to Italian parents, he speaks Italian, French, and Swiss German natively. He also knows English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.[41]
  • Željko Joksimović (1972–), Serbian singer-songwriter. Speaks Serbian, Russian, Polish, Greek, English, and French.[42]
  • Clarence Seedorf (1976–), Dutch former footballer. Speaks Dutch, English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Surinamese.[43]
  • Richard Simcott (1977–), British language consultant. He speaks sixteen languages (English, French, Spanish, Welsh, German, Macedonian, Swedish, Italian, Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian, Portuguese, Czech, Catalan, Russian, Dutch, Romanian, and Albanian)[44] and can use around thirty languages in total to some degree.[45]
  • Zdeno Chára (1977–), Slovak ice hockey player. Speaks Slovak, Czech, Polish, Russian, Swedish, German, and English.[46]
  • Daniel Tammet (1979–), British author. In his book Born on a Blue Day, he states that he knows ten languages: English, Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic, and Welsh.[47]
  • Ivan Rakitić (1988–), Croatian footballer. Speaks Croatian, English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish.[48]
  • Henrikh Mkhitaryan (1989–), Armenian footballer. Speaks Armenian, Russian, English, German, French, and Portuguese.[49]
  • Miralem Pjanić (1990–), Bosnian footballer. Speaks Bosnian, Luxembourgish, German, English, French, and Italian.[50]
  • Romelu Lukaku (1993–), Belgian footballer. Speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Lingala.[51]

OceaniaEdit

  • Ghil'ad Zuckermann (1971–), Israeli linguist, now living in Australia. He can speak eleven languages, and has some knowledge of eleven more.[52]

DeceasedEdit

Antiquity and Middle AgesEdit

Modern age, pre-18th centuryEdit

18th centuryEdit

  • Adam František Kollár (1718–1783), a Slovak writer, spoke Slovak, Czech, Serbian, Polish, Rusin, Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Turkish, Chinese, Persian, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, French, Dutch, and English.[62]
  • Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718–1799) was an Italian mathematician, philosopher, theologian and humanitarian. Agnesi was known as "the seven-language orator" already in her childhood, since she was fluent with Italian, French, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German and Latin.
  • Zaharije Orfelin (1726–1785) was a Serbian writer, artist, and polyglot who spoke more than 10 languages, and understood many more.
  • Jovan Rajić (1726–1801) was a Serbian writer and cleric who spoke and wrote in many languages in his time. He was born in the Habsburg Empire where one had to know German, Hungarian, Latin, Italian, Romanian, and all the Slavic languages if one wanted to achieve a standing.
  • Dositej Obradović (1739–1811) was a Serbian writer. Obradović spoke and wrote in German, French, Italian, English, Greek, Albanian, Latin, Turkish, Hungarian, Romanian and all of the Slavic languages, including Russian and Church Slavonic.
  • Sir William Jones (1746–1794), an Anglo-Welsh philologist known for founding comparative linguistics through proposing the existence of a relationship between European and Indian languages (the Indo-European Languages). Alongside his native English and Welsh languages, he learned Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and the basics of Chinese writing at an early age. In all, Jones could speak forty-one languages (at least thirteen fluently).[63][64]
  • Noah Webster (1758–1843), a lexicographer, English spelling reformer, and author, mastered twenty-three languages.[citation needed]
  • Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774–1849), an Italian Cardinal, knew the following thirty-nine languages, speaking many fluently and teaching some:[65] Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinical Hebrew, Arabic, Coptic, Ancient Armenian, Modern Armenian, Persian, Turkish, Albanian, Maltese, Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, English, Illyrian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Chinese, Syriac, Ge'ez, Hindustani, Amharic, Gujarati, Basque, Romanian, and Algonquin.
  • Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855), a German mathematician and physicist who made significant contributions to many fields in mathematics and sciences, excelled in ancient Greek and Latin at school. Entering university, Gauss considered studying philology.[66] He wrote the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, a groundbreaking work in the field of number theory, in Latin when he was 21. Gauss was known for his language capabilities; he spoke and wrote most of the principal European languages, many others he could read.[67][68] At the age of 62 he started learning Russian and in less than two years wrote and spoke it.[69]
  • Sándor Kőrösi Csoma (1784–1842), a Hungarian philologist and Orientalist, author of the first Tibetan-English dictionary and grammar book, was literate in at least eighteen languages, including Latin, ancient Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, French, German, English, Russian, Slavic, Turkish, Persian, Hindustani, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Bengali, Pashto, Marathi, and probably also Romanian, apart from his native Hungarian.
  • Jean-François Champollion (1790–1832), a French classical scholar, philologist, and orientalist, was the first to decipher the inscription on the Rosetta Stone, an achievement that facilitated the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphs—the titles "Father of Egyptology"[70] and "the founder of scientific Egyptology" have since been bestowed upon Champollion.[71] He specialized in Oriental languages while he was a student at the College de France between 1807 and 1809, and his linguistic repertoire eventually consisted of Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Pahlavi, Arabic, Persian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Zend, and his native French.[70][71][72]
  • John Bowring (1792–1872), an English political economist, traveler, writer, and the fourth governor of Hong Kong. Reputed to have known over two hundred languages, and to have had varying speaking ability in one hundred.
  • Matija Čop (1797–1835) was a Slovenian polymath and linguist, and was said to speak nineteen languages, among which were his native Slovene, Latin, ancient Greek, German, English, French, Italian, Serbian, Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Occitan and Hebrew.
  • Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800–1891) was a brilliant strategist and tactician who had a decisive share in the success of the Kingdom of Prussia in the German Unification Wars, adapting the army to modern times. He achieved this by separating the army on the march and concentrating it at the decisive moment, Getrennt marschieren – vereint schlagen (March separately, strike together), and giving subordinates independence in how to accomplish their goals, Auftragstaktik (Mission-type tactics). He was taciturn, popular called der große Schweiger (the great silent one), although he had an excellent knowledge of languages. It was quipped that he was 'silent in seven languages'. [73] Moltke spoke and wrote German, Danish, French, English, Italian and Turkish.[74]

19th centuryEdit

20th centuryEdit

1900sEdit

1910sEdit

1920sEdit

  • Ahmad Hasan Dani (1920–2009), a Pakistani intellectual, archaeologist, historian, and linguist, who mastered thirty-five languages.
  • Pope John Paul II (1920–2005), could speak many languages but reportedly was only fluent in Polish, Italian, Spanish, French, German, and Latin.[132]
  • Sahabzada Yaqub Khan (1920–2016), a Pakistani diplomat and army general who could "speak, read and write somewhere between 6 and 10 languages."[133]
  • Alessandro Bausani (1921-1988), an Italian orientalist (author of one of the most important Italian translations of the Quran) who could speak more than 30 languages, including several Asian, African and Native American languages such as Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Indonesian, and Cherokee.
  • P. V. Narasimha Rao (1921–2004), who served as the tenth Prime Minister of India (1991–1996), could speak 17 languages,[134] including nine Indian languages: Telugu, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, Oriya, Tamil, Kannada, Sanskrit and Bengali and six foreign languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, and Persian.
  • Abdul Shakoor Rashad (1921–2004), Afghan scholar, who mastered a dozen of languages outside his native Pashto.
  • Max Mangold (1922–2015), Swiss linguist. He spoke almost forty languages.[135]
  • Christopher Lee (1922–2015), English actor, singer, author, and World War II veteran who spoke fluent English, Italian, French, Spanish and German, and was moderately proficient in Swedish, Russian and Greek.[136]
  • Michael Ventris (1922–1956), an English linguist and architect. French, German, Swiss German, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Spanish, some Turkish, and ancient and modern Greek.[137]
  • Stephen Wurm (1922–2001) was a Hungarian-born Australian linguist. "He was a genuine rapid language learner, and before he was 40, was fluent in five of the Germanic languages, five of the Romance languages, three Slavic languages, in Arabic, Swahili, Turkish, Uzbek, Mongol, Mandarin, Tok Pisin, and Police Motu, and could get by in perhaps 30 other languages—over 50 in all."[138]
  • Hans Eberstark (1929–2001)[139]

1930sEdit

Post-1930sEdit

  • J. Jayalalithaa (1948–2016), Indian politician and actress. She spoke Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, and English.[149]
  • Sergei Starostin (1953–2005), Russian linguist. He spoke Russian, Polish, English, German, and French, and could read a further thirteen Slavic languages, as well as Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit. Through his research, he had some knowledge of a wide range of other languages.[150]
  • Shahab Ahmed (1966–2015), Pakistani scholar of Islam. He mastered around fifteen languages.[151]

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