Linguists / Poliglots / Philologists


I think this topic has been discurssed before. Anyway, I came across with this video:

where a person talks about linguists, polyglots and philologists and their differences.

For example he states:

LINGUIST: A linguist is a scientist of linguistics, not somebody who can speak many languages
POLYGLOT: Someone who speak many languages and it’s not related to linguistics.
PHILOLOGYST: Was replaced by linguistics.

By the way, at 4:05 he says that Steve refers himself as linguist but he doesn’t know if Steve is a professor of university or something like that. but he is sure Steve is an accomplished polyglot.

So I am a bit confused about the terminology.

In trying to get people to stop using linguist in the ‘wrong’ sense he may be a bit like King Canute, trying to stop the tide…

It is not dictionaries definitions that determine usage but vice versa besides Oxford does define a linguist as a proficient speaker of languages

My lost post was from my iPod touch. Let me add the two first definitions that I found on the web. Linguist may only mean a student of linguistics in most languages, but not in English. It may even have meant that at some time in English, but the usage of all words evolves. Dictionaries have to reflect that. It is pointless to argue against usage and its evolution. It is just pedantry.

lin·guist (lnggwst)

  1. A person who speaks several languages fluently.
  2. A specialist in linguistics.

A noun
1 linguist, polyglot
a person who speaks more than one language

2 	linguist, linguistic scientist
	a specialist in linguistics

steve said: “It is not dictionaries definitions that determine usage but vice versa.”

There are two types of dictionaries: prescriptive and descriptive. Oxford is the former, while Webster’s is the latter (generally).

Also, reading a dictionary does (among other things) fall under “usage.”

I don’t know the exact difference of the meaning in English but I can give my “Greek” point of view.

poly → multi- (when used as prefix), many
glot → language
polyglot → you can guess

philo → friend
logist → (logos) thought / speech
Philologist is someone who is involved with a language in any possible way that is beyond the necessary level someone needs to have for doing every day things. You can be a philologist of your own language or of other languages. From Greek when we translate this word to English then: “philologist” = “linguist”
Philologist is not a polyglot. As I said a philologist can be such on their own language. Polyglot has the meaning that someone can speak in multiple languages for every day things. Of course you can be philologist and polyglot if that’s the case.
The word philologist is mostly used for those who have study and can explain all the grammatical and syntactical phenomena of a language or as it seems in English those who have also study how the languages have formed (I don’t really know what that involves) but as the term suggests it has a very broad range of things that include:
Writing books, political speech writing / effective language use for convincing other people, explaining word roots/formation (Greek is a word-root-central language), creating new words (Ancient Greeks considered that as a special talent)

From Mirriam Webster’s online dictionary

Main Entry: lin·guist
Pronunciation: \ˈliŋ-gwist
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin lingua language, tongue
Date: 1591

1 : a person accomplished in languages; especially : one who speaks several languages
2 : a person who specializes in linguistics

By usage I meant language usage, the normal patterns of word usage in a language.

Relatively few people use dictionaries, and even smaller number would know that there are prescriptive and descriptive dictionaries, if in fact such a distinction exists, which I doubt.

The meaning of words evolves. An English dictionary in the 16th century would be different from a modern one. Many of the words will have changed meaning.

The value of a word in one language does not necessarily carry over to another. The word “familia” or similar, in most Western European languages, means family. In Russian it means surname, for example.

So according to what has said, “polyglot” and “linguist” can be considered synonyms.

In English, and in one of the meanings of linguist, yes. Polyglot is less ambiguous, but more people use the word linguist rather than the word polyglot.

The word “polyglot” has taken place from the Greek language (polyglottos - “multilingual”). It is a person who knows many languages (not less than four). Polyglot can speak foreign languages absolutely freely. He can translate sounding speech and the written text, and to write competently and clearly.
For example, the legend says, the Buddha spoke in 150 languages. :slight_smile: The most known polyglot of the past, whose abilities are certified quite authentically is a keeper of library of Vatican cardinal Dzhuzeppe Kaspar Metstsofanti (1774 - 1849). He freely spoke sixty languages. Thus the cardinal never left Italy and has studied languages independently.
The linguist is a scientist, the expert on linguistics (knowledge of language including phonetics, morphology syntax, etc.). In Russia, the linguistics is included in structure «philological sciences». Therefore the common name for linguists and representatives of related subjects (literary critics, specialists in folklore) quite often is “philologist”.