Different Kinds of Polyglots: Dispersoglots

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.

Examples of Dispersoglots: Dr. Carlos Freire, Ziad Fazah.

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?

20 Responses

  1. awesome, I can’t wait to see what kind of polyglot I am… hahahaha you should make it into a facebook quiz!

  2. Great post and great word, but would those two people be happy with that label and definition? Don’t they claim more for their current abilities in their languages than “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.”?

    TEFLtastic blog- http://www.tefl.net/alexcase

    • I hope they would be happy with it. I’ve tried to describe the Dispersoglots with big generalizations. There can be good Dispersoglots and bad Dispersoglots. The good ones would have a better understanding of their languages and the bad ones would forget everything.

      A 300-1000 word vocabulary and enough grammatical knowledge to use it effectively will allow you to communicate fairly well in most languages. I’ve heard lots of studies say that even native speakers usually only use between 700-1,500 words on a regular basis.

  3. Cool post! Looking forward to finding out what these other two types of polyglots get up to😛

  4. I used to be a dispersoglot with aims on beating the odds and becoming perfect or as much a master as possible in all of the languages I could learn. Now I can say that I have definite elements of dispersoglot, as I do want to learn the elements of several languages, including ones I’m sure I’ll never use.

    However, it s important to me to master several languages that have special significance to me. Currently I have only learned two languages fluently outside of my native English, but I have a whole list of others that am aiming on learning fluently in my life.

  5. And something else I forgot but another advantage to this type of learning is that it gives the learner a broad base of language knowledge and allows them to therefore easily delve more deeply into any language of their choice, and also learn it more quickly because they have already cemented base of grammar and vocabulary in their mind from previous spelunking into the language.

  6. […] Posts Dr. Arguelles' Six Most Important LanguagesDifferent Kinds of Polyglots: DispersoglotsHow Many Languages Is It Possible to Learn?The Many Languages of Ziad FazahThe Wisdom of a Man Who […]

  7. Hello Ryan, I´m very happy to read you again. Great post.

    I agree with you, and I can suggest you another type for further classification: “frustrated perfectoglot”, the gruop that I think to be in.

    According to your post, I´m a Dispersoglot. I prefere to know six languages at 60-70% of proficence that three languages at 99%. I´m like Homer Simpson seeing a Jello Milo Venus when I see another language to learn. Here, at the office, there is a bolivian guy and i goint to ask him if he speaks Aymara an if he would like to teach me. I´ve got the pimsleur audios for some very unwadely spoken languages, as Ojibwe and Twi, and I would like to learn it some day, and I’m sure that the main motivation to be a volunteer in a very far, poor or displaced community of refuged and starving people could be learning its language.

    Although, my dream is being a Perfectoglot and master every language that i can learn (sigh). Well, I’d like also being an olympic champion (sigh). I have to resign to being like that (another sigh)

    Great post. If you allow me, i can translate it to spanish and publish it in my blog.

    Greetengs from Colombia

    • It sounds like you and Tristan are questioning your identities a bit! I’ve got two more posts left in this series that will adress some of the things that you are talking about.

      Yes! It would be an honor for me if you translated this little series of mine about polyglots and published it on your blog. Es divertido traducir palabras inventadas de un idioma en otro idioma.

  8. To El Forestaro:

    I empathize with you being a dispersoglot but wanting to learn languages perfectly nonetheless. I guess it helps give me goals to shoot for, or dreams to go after. I might not attain them, but I’m at peace with that. Much of the fun is in the chase.

    I also like wide unspoken languages and joined the Peace Corps in hopes of learning such a language. I’m in Peru, but only in a Spanish speaking part. (My turn to sigh.) Oh well. I’ll probably find a way to get to learning indigenous (or whatever the case may be) languages anyways.

  9. […] Different Kinds of Polyglots: Dispersoglots […]

  10. The very apparent personalities of polyglots/linguists have started appearing on YouTube, so your post is certainly timely (and humorous/serious/thoughtful at the same time). It is so good, that I will refer back to it often. Not to check to see if I’ve suddenly grown a glot of my own mind you…

  11. I want be a Dispersoglot. I am Mateus Germano, an I began in the Brasil. I am speaking only Portuguese, English, and Spanish, but I will and can go up the number of languages.
    I see the videos of Wendy Vo. Is she Dispersoglot or Perfectoglot?

  12. One thing about having a limited amount of time each day or week to learn a language is that it can force you to get down to the meat of the material. If you match that up with consistency (a long period of time) then your on the right track.

  13. i find myself in this category many times because i profoundly believe that learning the colloquial/slang speech of a language is extremely important if one wishes to speak like a native. And it used to be the only thing that i wished to master (but, no not anymore now i am more pertectoglot oriented hehe) So for example, my favorite part of learning french is being able to learn “verlan” and “argot” i find it extremely fascinating that such dialects exist in a language that is perceived as very elegant and rich. But yet verlan and argot are highly spoken by the young francophone population and is associated also with french rap and hip hop… which indeed means that many vocabulary words and idiomatic expressions are considered to be gang, sex and drug related. Hehe very interesting … and this is exactly the type of things i would love to master not only in french but also in other languages as well.

  14. Interesting to read this series of posts… Thinking I’m happy with the dispersoglot title

  15. […] at The Linguist Blogger where Ryan divides polyglots into three different categories Lectoglots, Dispersoglots and Perfectoglots.His descriptions of the different types of polyglots are quite wonderful and […]

  16. I love this! I must say you had me laughing quite a bit at the truth of this post… for I am a Dispersoglot.

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