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Babel No More / Mezzofanti’s Gift

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Fasulye
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 Message 145 of 149
18 May 2012 at 8:33pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:


I have mostly read the book for the individual portraits, and if Erard writes a sequel I hope that it will focus more on polyglots as individuals with very different goals, methods and personalities.


This is what I also find the strong points of this book, that there are several polyglots portrayed which I didn't know before or as in the case of Prof. Arguelles that there is some additonal information about him.

Fasulye

Edited by Fasulye on 18 May 2012 at 8:35pm

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Sprachprofi
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 Message 146 of 149
18 May 2012 at 9:10pm | IP Logged 
The problem is as follows:

There is a survey of several hundred self-selected people who believe they have
linguistic talent, independent of whether they are polyglots. This survey suggests a
higher than average occurence of males, left-handed people, auto-immune disorders and
homosexuality.

Later, this survey is narrowed down to less than 20 people with truly extraordinary
language abilities. These people do not fit the above stereotype (and if they did, it
would not be statistically relevant), yet that is what is implied to the media, as the
media are only interested in knowing what traits extraordinary language learners have,
and not what traits those people have who think they might become extraordinary one
day.

Problem 1: this narrowing-down is unscientific. What if all survey results veering
towards left-handedness came from artists who are only interested in learning Italian
and French? What if autism induces people to focus on at most 4 languages? These would
be subgroups that don't have any overlap with the subgroup of hyperpolyglots, so it is
not scientific to expect hyperpolyglots to share the same tendencies as the whole
survey group, especially in a survey that didn't choose its participants from a random
representative sample of the population.

Problem 2: the claim is further simplified, raising the expectation that *every*
polyglot is male, left-handed, with auto-immune disorders etc. etc., when a quick look
at HTLAL's polyglots' self-descriptions shows that they have at most one of these
traits and many have none.

There are lies, damned lies and statistics.
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Pisces
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 Message 147 of 149
19 May 2012 at 12:23am | IP Logged 
I think it would be very difficult to do a really scientific survey of a group like polyglots; it's too hard to get a representative sample. That doesn't mean it isn't permissible to do a survey with what one's got, as long as one is careful in presenting the results.

About the Geschwind-Galaburda model (this is the same as the Geschwind-Behan-Galaburda model, right?) - I didn't pay that much attention to it when I first read the book, but now I looked at it on the Internet. It's quite interesting, and raises a lot of issues, but is quite speculative. It claims that left-handedness, autoimmune disorders, etc. and language disabilities are associated, and perhaps some kinds of giftedness such musical or artistic talent. So I don't quite see its relevance to polyglots.

Edited by Pisces on 19 May 2012 at 12:23am

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Kronos
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 Message 148 of 149
28 May 2012 at 8:07pm | IP Logged 
New podcast interview with Babel No More author Michael Erard, on Syzygy on Languages blog.

Interview conducted by Claude Cartaginese ('The Polyglot Project') and David Mansaray.

Edited by Kronos on 28 May 2012 at 8:11pm

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Fasulye
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 Message 149 of 149
18 July 2013 at 7:22pm | IP Logged 
Michael Erard's book "Babel No More" has now been launched on the UK bookmarket under the title "Mezzofanti's Gift".

Fasulye


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