LINGUIST List 14.2923

Sun Oct 26 2003

FYI: A "Gene" for Hyper-Polyglottism?

Editor for this issue: Anne Clarke <>


  1. Dick Hudson, A "gene" for hyper-polyglottism??

Message 1: A "gene" for hyper-polyglottism??

Date: Fri, 24 Oct 2003 11:19:33 +0100
From: Dick Hudson <>
Subject: A "gene" for hyper-polyglottism??

Dear Linguist-list, 

Some time ago I broadcast a query about the 'world record' for
learning foreign languages (Linguist 7.861.2), and in my summary
(Linguist 7.881) I identified an Italian cardinal called Mezzofante as
the probable record-holder. I've just had the following message from
another Mezzofante. If anyone is interested in contacting this
gentleman, I'm sure he'd be pleased to hear from you - you'd better ask
me for his email address.

"First let me apologize for bothering you but I saw a article you
wrote and had to write. You may recognize my last name (MEZZOFANTE).
In my family every 3 or 4 generations there is a member of my family
who has the ability to learn many languages. My Grandfather was one
of them. 

I was taken on a world cruise with him at the age of 10. In the 6
months that we traveled I couldn't remember once him not being able to
speak the language of the area. I had seen him pick up newspapers and
translated it to 3 other people in three other languages. Before his
death I asked him of how many languages that he knew and he said he
could speak around 70 but was able to read and write in only 56. My
grand father was an uneducated man. He never had any formal education
He said that his great uncle and his father both were able to speak
over 100. 

There has been 4 generations now and I have a grand daughter in 1st
grade who has the ability to learn she can count in 3 languages up to
100 and she is able to pick out words spoken in other languages in
public and tell you what it means. Maybe another Mezzofante with the
ability exists."

Best wishes, Dick Hudson

Richard (= Dick) Hudson
Phonetics and Linguistics, University College London, 

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