An international science convention in Tokyo is over for the day. A South African Theoretical Physicist sits at his hotel bar stirring his drink and trying to strike up a conversation with the lovely lady on his left. He struggles to tell her about himself, where he’s from, etc. in Japanese and English but gives up after a few minutes. She leaves; he faces forward, dejected, and orders another drink. Smiling, a colleague on his right says to him, You know, I think I know what went wrong there.
Oh yeah, what?
I think she got confused when you said you were from Africa.
Well, I am. Born and raised.
Yes, but you are white. You cannot be truly African unless you are black like me. Am I not right? He asks a colleague sitting to his right who is also presumably from Africa.
Well, I don’t know. He says to him, winking. You speak French and Arabic, the languages of invaders. You can’t even speak an African language like me. Your family moved to France when you were fifteen and now you live in Switzerland. Are you really an African either?
Just as it seems a little silly for three grown men who were born and raised in Africa to argue over what an African is, it is silly for Polyglots to try to exclude one another by narrowing the definition of a word that has a broad definition. Polyglots come in different in many different varieties but can be generally grouped into three main categories: Dispersoglots, Perfectoglots and Lectoglots.
Lectoglots: Polyglot Bookworms
These Polyglots are very often academics and it is not unusual for quite a few of their languages to be dead. There are also a good number of Lectoglots who work in different government jobs reading newspapers and other texts in foreign languages and then making summaries in their native tongues for their superiors to read. Lectoglots are often translators but prefer to avoid reading translations whenever possible. Many think that anything worth reading is worth reading in the original language.
Cons to being a Lectoglot: Lectoglots have a tendency to be horrible at conversing in their languages. They focus so much on good input skills (i.e. reading and listening) that their output skills (i.e. speaking and writing) are woefully underdeveloped. They can read the Koran in Classical Arabic and the New Testament in Classical Greek but they generally only discuss what they read in their native tongue.
There are those that say that Lectoglots have no business calling themselves Polyglots because of their over emphasis on the poly (many) but lack of emphasis on the glot (tongue). I once saw a professor who was the son of Greek immigrants and was a specialist in Ancient Greek texts not dare to respond in Greek to a student who addressed him in that language. Again, this calls into question how well the Lectoglot knows the language.
Pros to being a Lectoglot: Lectoglots are not usually social butterflies anyway and don’t feel that they are missing out because they can’t speak fluent Phoenician. The reason a certain Lectoglot may not be fluent French, even though he loves reading Victor Hugo and Proust, is that he rarely goes to Francophone countries. Now, drop him in France for a month and just see how long it takes for him to become fluent. He’ll already have a HUGE vocabulary and know how the language works.
Not focusing on speaking and writing skills allow Lectoglots to learn languages quickly. These Polyglots are transported through time and space in ways that few people are or can be. Their connection with Rome, Egypt, India, China, etc. through these peoples’ texts is one of the reasons we have become aware of the Indo-European language and other such relevant and important aspects of the human experience.
It’s been fun writing about these three types of Polyglots. Between people who have left comments and people who I’ve spoken with, it seems that we’re having a hard time telling whether or not we are one, the other, or all three. I’m going to try and squeeze in another post about this before Thanksgiving that should clear a few things up. In the meantime, what do you think about the Lectoglots? Are you a Lectoglot or an aspiring Lectoglot?
Filed under: Polyglots