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Babel No More / Mezzofanti’s Gift

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Budz
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 Message 89 of 149
31 January 2012 at 9:01am | IP Logged 
That's interesting. I think a dictionary look-up of idiosyncracy would settle it pretty easily. But what would you call it if only right-handed people were ever polyglots?
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Iversen
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 Message 90 of 149
31 January 2012 at 9:58am | IP Logged 
Idiosynkracy is something that characterizes a single person, and by extension small groups of persons as long as each one seen as an individual. If you say that 20% of a population have an idiosynkracy then it isn't an idiosyncracy - 20% is not an individual or a few individuals, but a minority.


I find the discussion about the Geschwind-Galaburda cluster somewhat problematic because the number of respondents both is extremely small (especially when the treshold used is 11 functional languages) and because there isn't a control group. Actually people with the syndrome might be more prone to answering questionnaries, while true worldclass hyperpolyglots might tend NOT to fill out those things?

This is not a critique of Erard: he had to discuss the hypothesis about the syndrome because it has been discussed publicly, and it is one of the few theories put forward concerning (hyper)polyglots. But there is simply not enough empirical evidence to accept or reject it - it is just a hypothesis which you can believe in or not.

In the same vein: it seems that the majority of the members of HTLAL are male. Some have more languages, some have fewer. Now assume that we limit the focus to those with at least 6 (or 11) languages. It would then be a surprise if the majority weren't still male. To be sure that that there was an extra high tendency towards maleness in the restricted material you would at least have to show that the percentage of males were higher there than in the total sample, and even then you could claim that the total group of respondents was unrepresentative of language learners at large, insofar that people with extremely numerous languages could be either unwilling to participate here OR more willing than the average learner. How many of the multilingual Southern Indians are members here? Far less than members from basically monolingual countries.

Actually I see Erards project as a quest for hyperpolyglots "in spite of any background polyglotism" - i.e. a search for people who didn't just become polyglots because everybody else in their surroundings spoke 4 or 5 languages. And of course such "polyglots against the odds" stand out more clearly in societies where the normal thing is just to speak 1 or at best 2 languages. Even the restriction to 11 languages could be an attempt to find the extremists in the hope that they would show the rationale behind polyglotism in a more clearcut form. However he apparently ended up with a group that has few common traits.


btw. Erard may have become the leading expert in hyperpolyglotism by now, but Fasulye can sure claim the title of our foremost expert in links to discussions on the internet about Bable no More!

Edited by Iversen on 31 January 2012 at 1:42pm

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Fasulye
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 Message 91 of 149
31 January 2012 at 1:18pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
but Fasulye can sure claim the title of our foremost expert in links to discussions on the internet about Bable no More!


Thanks for this title! :)

Michael Erard is so busy with giving interviews and writing articles about "Babel No More" so I offered him to post his links to articles, interviews, podcasts etc. which he distributes on Twitter here on HTLAL as well.

Fasulye
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Michael K.
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 Message 92 of 149
31 January 2012 at 4:46pm | IP Logged 
Prof. Arguelles has posted a video response to the book.

The Study of Polyglottery

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1yb80ncN8Y

He says there are some inaccuracies about him in the book and some things in general he doesn't like. NOTE: Below Dr. Erard says this may be part of the media's response to the book and not necessarily what he wrote in the book.

1) That he disdains speaking languages. He says it's true he has studied many languages and hasn't spoken many of them with people, but he's not so eccentric as to not like talking to people in the languages he studies.

2) He doesn't like the overall negative psychological profile of hyperpolyglots presented in the book. He also said that he told the author not to explore psychological traits of polyglots too much.

Despite the criticisms, he says he appreciates it as a pioneering work and that it is worth reading.



Edited by Michael K. on 05 February 2012 at 10:25pm

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Budz
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 Message 93 of 149
02 February 2012 at 9:05am | IP Logged 
Why are so many of the hyperpoliglots in the survey native English speakers?

My theory is that for non English speakers there is a huge pressure to learn English and to learn it really well. So spending time on many languages could be seen as frivolous whereas if I dabble in thirty languages I won't really end up in a situation where someone says, 'yeah, your Basque isn't bad but shouldn't your Mandarin (or German or whatever) be better?.' It just won't be seen as a big deal.

Whereas if I were a non English speaker I suspect I would receive a lot of criticism if I were attempting many languages without having exceptionally good English first. Result - lots of time spent on English and a lost opportunity to become a hyperpoliglot.
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Iversen
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 Message 94 of 149
02 February 2012 at 10:46am | IP Logged 
I have another theory. This forum is in English and therefore dominated by Anglophones and people who have learned English at a reasonably high level. Erard's own homepage is also in English, and the form was in English. If he had published a similar form in for instance Hindi through the internet there would have been few native Anglophones (apart from those Indians who fall in this category), but maybe some of the multilingual Indians in Southern India would have responded. And that could have been interesting!

Actually you will find a large number of polyglots from the former USSR named in Spivak's book, which can be seen as a forerunner for Erard's project. And even in Erard's book a fair number of non English poliglots are named by name - it is mainly the enquete which has an Anglophone bias.

In my view it is a positive thing that some of the hyperpolyglots have a monolingual background - it shows that you can break out of that dire situation if you are determined enough.

Edited by Iversen on 02 February 2012 at 10:52am

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Michael K.
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 Message 95 of 149
02 February 2012 at 10:51am | IP Logged 
In the survey 84 out of 390 hyperpolyglots had English as one of their mother tongues, so the majority aren't English native speakers.

Your theory is still interesting, though. I don't know if Dr. Erard asked the nonEnglish native hyperpolyglots in detail how they learned English and if they thought knowing English the best of all their languages is important to them.
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michael erard
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 Message 96 of 149
05 February 2012 at 3:03am | IP Logged 
I wanted to write something briefly about Michael K.'s summary of Alexander's YouTube response. I had the sense he was saying that the reviews and responses in the media had mis-characterized how he uses his languages, which is not a criticism of the book. I write many things about many people in the book, none of which were fabricated, and I say many things about Alexander, none of which were fabricated. But I have no control over how the book or the contents are portrayed by other writers, and I have myself have winced at some of the characterizations.



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