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Encyclopedia > Trilingual

A multilingual person or a polyglot is someone with a high degree of proficiency in several languages. (A bilingual person can speak two languages fluently, a trilingual three. One who can speak six or more languages fluently is known as a hyperpolyglot.)


Multilingualism in the past and present

Multilingualism has been more common in the past than usually supposed; in early times, when most people were members of small language communities, it was necessary to know two or more languages for trade or any other dealings outside one's own town or village, and this holds true today in places of high linguistic diversity such as Sub-Saharan Africa and India. Widespread multilingualism is one form of language contact.

Noted polyglots

Record holders

The world's most prolific living polyglot is Ziad Fazah (born 1954) who apart from his mother tongue Arabic is reported to speak 55 other languages. Calculations as to how many languages now-dead polyglots spoke is difficult, since no one can offer an objective description of what is required to "know a language" fluently, but the greatest polyglot in history is believed to be cardinal Giuseppe Gaspardo Mezzofanti (1774-1849), who is reported to have spoken up to a hundred languages fluently (though about fifty of them were "only" dialects). On a visit from the Lord Byron, he surprised Byron by showing a more extensive knowledge of local London slang than the poet himself.


30 or more

20 or more

10 or more

5 or more

Other polyglots

External links

  • Data on multilingualism in India (http://www.censusindia.net/cendat/language/language_data.html)


  Results from FactBites:
Trilingual Issues - Support for trilingual children and multilingual parents (714 words)
Published literature on trilingualism is almost non-existent as bilingual studies are commonly assumed to be applicable to trilingualism too.
While that is often true, trilingual children are exposed to a wide range of different challenges compared to bilinguals.
And finally a complete non-academic book about trilingualism and multilingualism for Parents and Educators is in progress to be published with Multilingual Matters, based on this study, on conference papers and on the forum.
  More results at FactBites »



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