Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners
March 10, 2013
Author Michael Erard
Publisher Free Press
Publication Date 2012
This book chronicles the superhuman feats of hyperpolyglots, the Steve Austins and Jaime Sommerses of language learners. It is a great read, though you have to be careful not to let yourself be intimidated by these mindblowing language super-learners.
Despite its focus on the language-learning elite, one of the things I like about Erard’s book is that it gives value to different degrees and types of capability. It’s not an all-or-nothing deal with language.
Some facility in a language, however imperfect, is still meaningful. This seems like an obvious point, I guess, but I have struggled with it in my own brain a great deal.
One of the stars of his book is the Italian cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849), who was reputed to have mastered dozens of languages and be able to flip effortlessly in conversation from one to the next.
It is of course hard to assess the true skills of someone who has been dead for 164 years, but Erard conscientiously seeks to ferret out the truth behind the mythology, while also telling the stories of other linguistically gifted people who are still totally alive and talking!