LINGUIST List 7.1037

Tue Jul 16 1996

Disc: Multilinguality

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Dick Hudson, More on Mezzofante the Champion

Message 1: More on Mezzofante the Champion

Date: Mon, 15 Jul 1996 22:14:09 BST
From: Dick Hudson <>
Subject: More on Mezzofante the Champion

Further to my summary of the correspondence on multilinguality, here's
a message that I've just received from Antonio Ruiz Mariscal
<>, who has agreed that I can pass the
message on to the rest of the world. I thought the details were
fascinating, especially the bit about the methods used by the Giants.

Incidentally, why are they all men?

>	I would like to recommend that you read the biography of Cardinal
>Mezzofanti by Russell, in which you will find a lot more information on
>the extraordinary achievements of Mezzofanti. Byron, in his "Travels in
>Italy" refers the story of how Mezzofanti mastered one language in 48
>hours, without prior knowledge of it and give a whole paragraph with
>authorities ans witnesses for such a feat, finishing by telling that he
>himself asked the Cardinal about it. In Russell's biography you will find
>testimony of how he dedicated 15 hours to sardo (from the island of
>Sardinia) and could mastered it.
>	There are at least two more biographies of Mezzofanti, but they
>are not in english.
>	Russell's work on Mezzofanti is quite remarkable in that it
>includes a long introduction, in truth a "memoir" of past men and women
>that were renowned for the number of languages that they could speak
>fluenty. In it you will find about four people that could speak and write
>over 50 languagues, but only one, Mezzofanti, with over 100. (The list in
>Russell's gives, if my memory is not at fault, 117).
>	Yes, some authors tells you of John Bowring as also speaking more
>than 100 languages, but I have never been able to find detailed accounts
>or documents referring to this point.
>	Some twenty years ago there was a short piece of news telling you
>of a living young from Czechoeslovakia that was being tested in 125
>	More important perhaps than the exact number is the method used
>to learn such an astounding amount of languages. Perhaps you are aware
>that Mezzofanti, Richard Burton, Henrich Schliemann and several other of
>the greatest polyglots of all time agree as to the method. You use a text
>of the foreign language you want to master and a dictionary.
>	Ripley's also gives you the names of two nordic linguists as
>candidates for the record, but I have yet not been able to find a true
>basis for such claim.

>	The story of the two criminals whose language Mezzofanti was able
>to learn overnight, was told by Mezzofanti himself to his friend Cardinal
>Wiseman, the famous author of the "Fabiola" novel. Let me stress the point
>that Mezzofanti never boasted of his talents but quite contrary, it was very
>dificult to get such details or stories from him, and only the long friendship
>with Wiseman gave way to our knowing this and several other such stories.
Richard Hudson
Department of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
work phone +171 419 3152; work fax +171 383 4108

email; web-site
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue