Being interested in language isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, history is full of instances of figures who knew more than one or two languages. Let’s take a look at some famous historical figures that you may not know were polyglots.
Elizabeth I (September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603)
Being royalty or a politician means getting a lot of benefit from knowing multiple languages. Someone in a position of power needs to be able to communicate fluently with many different officials and citizens. Now people in power have translation tools that can allow them to get by, but in the olden days? You had to fully rely on language proficiency to communicate. Maybe that’s why Elizabeth I (pictured above) knew seven different languages: English, Flemish, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Greek and French.
Sir Richard Burton (March 19, 1821 – October 20, 1890)
Perhaps the most gifted linguist in the world, some totals of the number of languages Sir Richard Burton knew are as high as 29. Language fluency wasn’t just a hobby, but instead was a necessity based on his various lines of work. As an explorer, soldier, writer, cartographer, spy, ethnologist and diplomat, it’s plain to see why he could benefit from having a large language repertoire. Among the list of the known languages he spoke are English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindustani, Gujarati, Marathi, Persian and Sindhi.
Friedrich Engels (November 28, 1820 – August 5, 1895)
You likely know of Karl Marx, but do you know who Friedrich Engels is? Co-author of The Communist Manifesto, Engels helped to found Marxist theory without getting any of the naming credit. Engels worked as a businessman, journalist, philosopher and social scientist while also being an established polyglot. Known languages he was fluent in include English, French, Polish, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish Gaelic and Milanese dialect (a form of Italian).
J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973)
Most readers are familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing credits, including the iconic novels “The Hobbit” “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion.” Unlike others on this list, Tolkien’s status as a linguist doesn’t stop at known spoken languages, but instead extends to making his own language systems. Tolkien could speak 35 different languages, but also developed Quenya and Sindarin, both seen in the aforementioned books.
José Mourinho (January 26, 1963 – Current Day)
A modern example of a polyglot is José Mourinho, manager of Premier League football club Manchester United. Originally from Portugal, Mourinho is considered to be an incredible soccer coach, named among the 10 greatest coaches since the founding of UEFA by the administration itself. In an interview with Jeffrey Marcus, Mourinho announced that he could speak English, Spanish, Italian and French.
One More Polyglot…
Want to know another polyglot? Me! As the author of this blog and fellow language enthusiast, I can currently speak English, Spanish, French, Dutch and German. It may not be as impressive as Tolkien or Sir Burton, but anyone who is willing to learn more than one language should be applauded.
I have an extreme passion for the translation industry, and that requires being familiar with multiple languages. The world contains many languages, and content should be written to cater to the needs of the global language system. Is your content global-friendly?