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Panglottery and Language Choice

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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 Message 9 of 34
16 March 2012 at 1:38am | IP Logged 
I love this concept, and adhere to it I suppose, just without naming it. I'm trying to
be panglottic for a certain regions. I plan on travelling/focusing my
career in both Latin America and the Mediterranean Basin.

The Americas:

Med Basin:

Everyone will have their own list even for the same regions, but I tried to think about
not having overlap, and if I did, such in the case of Arabic and French (Levante/N.
Africa) it's more of an advantage. Like said before, staying clear of Italian because
lack of geography it covers. Most likely will be able to communicate with someone in a
related Romance language like Spanish. And with focusing on certain areas you are
interested in going, you also get the benefit of many of the languages being useful
other places.

Areas outside these regions where languages could be of use:
French: Sub Saharan Africa, various Pacific Islands
Arabic: Muslim countries - as many religous/educated people in non-Arab countries have
some knowledge of Classic or MSA.
Turkish: Opens you up to the Turkic states.
Croatian: Balkans (former Yugoslavia) also other Slavic states b/c speaking Croatian
with a Pole is going to be more useful then tying to speak Spanish with them.

And then you get your "fun" languages. I'm interested in Amharic, Irish, Cherokee,
Catalan, Basque just for the pleasure of learning and experiencing their respective
cultures. They aren't useful from a # of speakers or wide-spread criteria, but they
are kind of like baking an intrecit dessert; you don't do it as often as eating
chicken breast, but you don't eat it because it's healthy, rather cause it tastes good!

Edited by Gallo1801 on 16 March 2012 at 1:50am

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 Message 10 of 34
16 March 2012 at 8:18am | IP Logged 
Gallo1801 wrote:
And then you get your "fun" languages. I'm interested in Amharic, Irish, Cherokee, Catalan, Basque just for the pleasure of learning and experiencing their respective cultures. They aren't useful from a # of speakers or wide-spread criteria, but they are kind of like baking an intrecit dessert; you don't do it as often as eating chicken breast, but you don't eat it because it's healthy, rather cause it tastes good!

I think a case can be made that the panglot who only knows large international languages and no small, local ones lacks a dimension of understanding human language and culture. Adding one or two languages like these is, I think, necessary for rounding off one's knowledge and avoiding too strong a selection bias.
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 Message 11 of 34
16 March 2012 at 9:18pm | IP Logged 
Ari wrote:

Of course, every time we make a decision to make things easier, we risk reducing the diversity, but I think we need to do some cost-benefit analysis.

Yeah, this is basically the central barrier that stands in the way of panglottery. As far as Latin and Ancient Greek go, I think it all depends on how much you value ancient, dead languages and their cultures.


I think (Modern Standard) Arabic is a more natural choice than Russian. Russian might cover vast amounts of land, but most of it is very sparesly populated and we're trying to cover human culture, not geography. We're also interested in history and the modern world, and Arabic influence has been huge throughout history, and it's intimately connected with the rise of Islamic extremism, which is a burning issue in today's world. Not to mention the oil wars. Since MSA is so close to Classical Arabic, we also get another Classical language for free. Russian has of course also had an enormous historical influence and its place amongst the important languages is assured because of the cold war, so it's hardly a bad choice.

I would argue that Russia's vast geography basically guarantees that it will cover a lot of culture. It might take time, but the culture in Vladivostok is bound to take on interesting contours that are absent from Muscovite culture. And then of course we have the cultures of the Russophone Central Asian countries.


I think Portugese can be cut without losing too much. In terms of language and culture, it's not too different from Spanish, so what we gain is mostly land mass, not cultural or linguistic diversity.

A language of 200 million people and a rising power is too much for me to forego. And Brazilian culture is sufficiently distinct and vibrant that you are sure to get a lot out of it even if you already know Spanish.


Japanese and Korean are both vibrant culturally, but we can probably be forgiven for choosing only one of them, as they're somewhat similar culturally and linguistically, and because they are both considered extremely hard to learn.

An incredibly tough choice, but I can sympathize with it.


I think a case can be made for replacing Hindi with a Dravidian language such as Tamil. This still gives us access to India and it increases linguistic diversity by adding another family. Not sure how much the increase in difficulty would be, but I suspect Hindi is already far enough away for it to be quite difficult. Another advantage would be the large Tamil-speaking diaspora in places like Singapore and Malaysia. We do lose the Urdu advantage, however, so maybe it's not a great idea.

The more I think about it, the less willing I am to forego a Dravidian language (but even less ready to forego the behemoth Hindi). Dravidian is unique among the 11 major language families of the world in that there is no allstar of the family (as Thai is to Tai-Kadai, or Mandarin is to Sino-Tibetan). I think I'll just wait and see how the situation there develops. Perhaps one of the Dravidian languages will eventually become the lingua franca of South India. That would make the decision a lot easier for us.


Swahili might not cover a large area or a lot of speakers, but if we're going for cultural panglottery, covering the entire African continent only with colonist languages seems to me to be skimming the surface. I think we need at least one native language, and Swahili seems like the natural choice.

After considering this further, I completely agree.

Iversen wrote:

and if the immense literature in Latin isn't an argument for retainning it then the legacy of Ancient Greek can't be an argument either.

Why not? If we can get both a great cultural legacy and further linguistic diversity in one package, it's all the better.

kanewai wrote:

You could take "panglottery" in many different directions, too. Instead of # of people,
you could aim to be panglottic in sacred languages (Koine Greek, Coptic, Sanskrit, Pali,
Classical Hebrew, Latin, Tibetan, & Arabic)

This would be a great enterprise for a religion scholar with a linguistic bent. Who knows what sort of knowledge could be gained by people who go down that road.
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 Message 12 of 34
13 April 2012 at 6:50pm | IP Logged 
Hmm, I would go with:

Americas: Quechua and Guarani, Haitian Creole. Maybe Inuktitut.

Africa: Zulu, Tswana, Malagasy, Shona, Lingala, Swahili, Tigrinya, Amharic, Somali, Hausa, Yoruba (or Igbo), Fula, Wolof, Tuareg (Tamasheq), Chewa, Kirundi.

Middle East: Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Azeri.

Caucasus: Georgian, Abkhaz, Armenian.
South Asia (UN definition):
Hindi, Tamil (it's the most learned Dravidian language, espite the fact that it has not the biggest number of speakers).
Urdu (part of Hindi), Persian, Pashto, Nepali, Tibetan.
SEA: Burmese, Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese, Indonesian.
East Asia: Chinese, Korean, Japanese...
Europe: Spanish, French, German, Swedish, Finnish, Hungarian, Russian, Greek, Albanian, Jugoslavian, Bulgarian, Romanian.Czech, Polish, Dutch.

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 Message 13 of 34
14 April 2012 at 4:06pm | IP Logged 
I think if you want to be a panglot with the least languages necessary, you could be pretty much set with English, Spanish, Russian and Chinese/Japanese.
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 Message 14 of 34
23 April 2012 at 7:15pm | IP Logged 
Luckily, the colonial powers of past centuries and today haven't managed to take over the world, per se. Or maybe they have, but they're not micromanagers. I digress. The corollary is that English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic and Chinese (or insert your favorite linguas franca) get you reeeally far for just six languages, but they don't get you the whole world. Which is cool.

If you want to be able to speak to everyone on the planet, good luck. If you want the most efficient way to cover tons of ground, I think the six I mentioned (which happen to be the official U.N. languages) are where it's at.

If you're seeking a more philologically playful panglottery, you might want something interesting and useful from every corner, like Chinese, English, Tamil, Navajo, Quechua, and Swahili. Anyway, my point is, under the constraints of a human brain and lifespan, I don't think we're talking about pulling off Clumsy's bucket list. It looked fun; I'm just sayin'... you've got to pick your battles.

edit: Alexander86 also mentioned the U.N. languages... right on.

Edited by Ygangerg on 23 April 2012 at 7:30pm

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 Message 15 of 34
10 April 2013 at 6:38pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
Bahasa Indonesia, which is spoken as 1. or 2. language by around 175 mio. Indonesians (plus those that speak the sister language Bahasa Malaysia). And my experience is that it is a good choice for your first non European language. Those who habitually deal with tourists or who have a higher education will certainly know English, but if your let this criterion prevail in Indonesia then you could just as well drop all European languages (except maybe Spanish, but only because of the situation in Latinamerica - in Europe the average Hispanophone would speak English at least as well as the average Indeonesian).

Interesting topic. I've often thought about how to get maximum diversity with the minimal number of languages. With this in mind, I agree with Iversen's idea of dropping all European languages except for English. The others are important of course, so I feel bad right off the bat, but I have to do it in order to keep my list short and not so Western-biased.
1. English

The next place that comes to my mind is the Middle East - the cradle of civilization. Arabic will come to most people's minds first, because it's the most spoken languages in the Middle East. But since since I'm going for maximum cultural diversity and not speaking to the most number of people, I'll argue for Hebrew instead. There are two reasons: 1) I'm biased because I study Hebrew, and 2) Hebrew is the language of Judaism, the parent religion of the three major Abrahamic religions; Modern Hebrew gives you Biblical Hebrew for free (like a Brit reading Shakespeare); Israel is the economic and technological powerhouse of the Middle East. Turkish and Persian are also very reasonable choices. But for me,
2. Hebrew (Arabic, Turkish, or Persian would also do nicely)

China and Japan have amazing histories and interesting futures. Which to choose? I think this one will be 50/50 if you take a poll. And of course what about Korean? Unfortunately for them, China and Japan dominate overall. For me, due to their huge influence now, in the past, and likely in the future, I'll choose Mandarin.
3. Mandarin

As for Africa and their languages, I agree with Ari's above-stated reasoning for Swahili...
4. Swahili

...and I agree with Iversen, again, regarding Indonesian.
5. Indonesian

Finally, I think it's important, for diversity's sake, to choose a native American language. There are hundreds, though. How to choose? For this language, I pick Guarani, because it's spoken by both indigenous and non-indigenous people. And it still has a very active culture, as it's spoken by the majority of an entire country in South America! Kind of amazing actually, for this day and age.
6. Guarani

So there you are:
English, Hebrew, Mandarin, Swahili, Indonesian, and Guarani

I'm sure this list is "wrong" for many of you, but this is probably how I would personally tackle panglottery if I wanted to access maximum language diversity with a minimal number of languages.
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 Message 16 of 34
21 April 2013 at 8:54pm | IP Logged 
I like this idea a lot, particularly since I'm trying to study languages from several different groups.

I don't have a lot of language learning experience, but I wonder if you could gain a more global experience if you give up on becoming "fluent" in all the languages you're discussing. I think even if you learn a major language from each group, you'd still be missing out on a lot of important cultures. I think you're also losing the benefit of studying related languages.

Maybe it would be a good strategy to become fluent in several key languages, then pick 2-4 related languages where you study just enough to understand the culture. Once you become fluent in a language I'd think you'd be able to get a lot more global perspective by learning enough of the related languages to understand them.

So for example, learning to speak Japanese to a high level, and understanding some Korean, or being able to speak Russian well and understanding enough to experience Polish and Czech.

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