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     · 1843-1849
     · Recapitulation
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      * Languages
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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > Recapitulation > Languages

As I cannot, consistently with the fundamental principle of this inquiry, accept such a statement, when unsupported by the testimony of native (or otherwise competent) witnesses for the several languages, as conclusive evidence of the Cardinal's knowledge of the languages which it ascribes to him, I shall merely offer this otherwise interesting paper at whatever may be considered its just value ; and I shall endeavour to decide the question upon grounds entirely independent of it, and drawn solely from the materials which I have already placed before the reader.

It will, no doubt, have been observed that, so far as regards the reports of the travellers and others who conversed with the Cardinal, the degrees of his power of speaking the several languages have been very differently tested. In some languages he was, as it were, perpetually under trial: in others, very frequently, and in prolonged conversations ; in others, less frequently, but nevertheless searchingly enough ; in others, in fine, perhaps only to the extent of a few questions and answers. It is absolutely necessary, in forming any judgment, to attend carefully to this circumstance. I shall endeavour, therefore, to divide the languages ascribed to him into four different classes.

First, languages certainly spoken by Cardinal Mezzofanti with a perfection rare in foreigners.

Secondly, languages which is he said to have spoken well, but as to which the evidence of sufficient trial is not so complete.

Thirdly, languages which he spoke freely, but less perfectly.

Fourthly, languages in which he could merely express himself and initiate a conversation. I shall add :—

Fifthly, certain other languages which he had studied from books, but does not appear to have spoken.

And lastly, dialects of the principal languages. This order, of course, precludes all idea of a scientific classification of the languages according to families.

Languages tables are viewable on this page

I should add that many of these dialects, as the Moorish and Berber Arabic, the Spanish of Majorca, the Provencal French, the Italian of Sicily and Sardinia, and the language of the Grisons or Graubünden, might most justly be described as separate languages, at least as regards the difficulty of acquisition. In the catalogue of the Cavaliere Minarelli a series of languages (the very names of which the reader probably never has heard,) are enumerated, chiefly of the central and South American families—of the for¬mer, the Cora, the Tepehuana, the Mistek, the Othomi, the Maya ; of the latter, the Paraguay, the Omagua, the Aymara, the Canisiana, and the Mobima. I am not aware of the authority on which the Cavaliere relies in reference to these languages. For the majority of them, I must say that I cannot find in the catalogue of the Cardinal's library any distinct trace whatever of his having studied them ; but it is certain that he had given his attention early to the languages of these countries ; that he had opportuni¬ties in Bologna of conversing with ex-Jesuit mission¬aries from the central and South American provinces ; and that the library of the Propaganda, of which he had the unrestricted use, contains many printed and manuscript elementary works in languages of which
little trace is elsewhere to be found.

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