LINGUIST List 7.915

Thu Jun 20 1996

Disc: Linguality

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Deborah D K Ruuskanen, Re: 7.907, Disc: Linguality
  2. Karsten Gramkow, Linguality
  3. John Goldsmith, Re: 7.907, Disc: Linguality

Message 1: Re: 7.907, Disc: Linguality

Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1996 10:51:57 +0300
From: Deborah D K Ruuskanen <>
Subject: Re: 7.907, Disc: Linguality
Re the Norwegian who "mastered" 60 languages. OK, I myself can translate
OUT OF about 14 languages into English, and I have a friend who is a
professional translator and can translate OUT OF about 60 languages into
English, but neither of us would claim we have "mastered" these
languages. We could not translate from English INTO most of them, and I
doubt if we could carry on a conversation even on the "can I have a
glass of water" or "lovely weather" level in more than three or four.
Somewhere I read that 4 languages for conversational purposes was the
most that "ordinary" people could handle, and that if they acquired a
fifth, they had to drop one of the others from their repetoire, but
don't ask me for the reference - it was in a psych book, though, not a
linguistics text, along with the familiar "you can do seven things at
once" statement. Cheers, DKR
Deborah D. Kela Ruuskanen \ You cannot teach a Man anything,
Leankuja 1, FIN-01420 Vantaa \ you can only help him find it \ within himself. Galileo
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Message 2: Linguality

Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1996 09:54:43 +0200
From: Karsten Gramkow <>
Subject: Linguality
Dear 'linguality-interested',

This discussion is too interesting to die out so soon! Although linguality
records may not be 'scientific' in the narrow sense of the word, and
although it is a bit strange that most of the record holders seem to have
lived their (busy?!) lives more than 100 years ago, it is a fact that some
people are able to pick up languages much easier than are others. I do not
wish to turn this discussion into one about SLA, but does anyone know what
constitutes such extraordinary language abilities, ie., what in my language
(Danish) is called 'language ear'?
A lot of people hardly learn to master their own language, while others, and
I'm sure we all know a few, speak 4, 5, 6, or more languages relatively
fluently. Direct motivation and exposure to the language in question
definitely helps for most, but doesn't work for others; some say that the
first foreign language is the hardest, from then on some kind of learning
pattern seems to establish itself.
It's probably not all in the genes, but what is it then? Is it possible that
early-life exposure to different languages (eg. the coexistence of standard
language and dialect in the speech community of the child) creates a high
level of language awareness that facilitates the learning of other languages
later in life? And/or does the 'language ear' rest on an ability to 'see
through' the differences between languages and focus the learning on the
Does anyone on this list know whether it has been possible to trace common
features of 'language pick-up strategies', shared by speakers of multiple

Karsten Gramkow
 Karsten Gramkow
 Centre for Languages and Intercultural Studies
 Aalborg University
 Havrevangen 1, DK - 9000 Aalborg
 ph.:	+45 98 15 42 11, ext. 6229
 fax:	+45 98 16 65 66
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Message 3: Re: 7.907, Disc: Linguality

Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1996 08:53:33 PDT
From: John Goldsmith <>
Subject: Re: 7.907, Disc: Linguality
Vernon Walters is a high-profile military/intelligence officer in
the US government -- he was Deputy Directory of the CIA under
Helms in the early 1970s, he was later ambassador to the United
Nations, and he was widely
reported as the US liaison to the Brazilian military at the time
of the military coup in Brazil in 1964. I've always seen his
linguistic abilities limited to five languages in profiles
of Walters in American newspapers.
John Goldsmith
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