What is an athlete? What do you have to do to be athletic? Are the only “true” athletes the Olympic decathlon competitors or can you be considered an athlete if you only run the 100 meter dash. How about football players? What about volleyball players? Do you have to be professional in order to be an athlete? That would exclude the best high school and university athletes. Do you even have to necessarily compete in a sport in order to be athletic?
I hope those questions feel like hair splitting to you because they certainly do to me. Different types of athletes have different types of goals but they are all athletes. Just like the word “athlete” the word “polyglot” is a broad term that includes many different types of language enthusiasts and professionals. Just like the different objectives are what make athletes different, a Polyglot’s main goals are what distinguish him/her from other Polyglots. As far as I can tell, these different types of polyglots fall into three major groups: the Dispersoglots, the Perfectoglots and the Lectoglots.
Dispersoglots: The Don Juans and Casanovas of Polyglottery
Dispersoglots usually love the Teach Yourself language series and every other decent audio/text language course out there. They are usually fluent in the basics of at least seven languages but it is not at all uncommon for them to tell you that they know as many as thirty languages. They are usually appalled at the idea of “only” studying ten languages and are often quite confident in their abilities to communicate with people from all over the world, which they often do with great confidence and pleasure.
Cons to being a Dispersoglot: Dispersoglots generally never master more than one or two of the languages they study. They typically learn how the writing system works, the main grammar points and how to use 300 to 1,000 words. After that they move on to flirt with and conquest a new language, quickly forgetting much of what they learned.
When most people hear the words “fluent” and “know” when applied to a language they suppose that the Dispersoglot has a near native command of his/her languages and are then heartily disappointed when he/she cannot say things like, “The Wall of China is the only man-made building that can be seen from space.” with near flawless pronunciation. Experiences like these often discredit not only the Dispersoglots but all other Polyglots as well.
Pros to being a Dispersoglot: Nobody knows more about how humans use language than the Dispersoglots. To some, the Dispersoglots are the only “true” polyglots because they don’t just learn languages, they learn entire language families. Their lives are enriched in ways that few people understand by being able to communicate with Moroccans, Romanians, Fijian Indians, Mongolians, etc.
The Dispersoglots don’t wait for ideal circumstances to come along for them to learn a language. They climb the mountain simply because it is there. If all they have is a dictionary from the nineteenth century and a janitor who works at their supermarket and speaks the language, these passionate language enthusiasts become fascinated and determined.
This is all I have for now. I’ll come back later and talk about the Perfectoglots and Lectoglots. In the meantime, what are your thoughts about Dispersoglots? Have you ever met any Dispersoglots? Do you think that you might be a Dispersoglot?
Filed under: Polyglots