I think multilingualism is simply knowing more than one language. When I think of a the term polyglot, I think of terms like “automath” or “autodidact”. A polyglot is multilingual but I think it describes the why and how that individual became multilingual. In other words, a polyglot is at least in part self-taught and driven to learn because of an intrinsic need (they are self driven to learn). Someone who is multilingual but not a polyglot may know a few languages but probably isn’t driven to learn more without some extrinsic need (such as a new language environment).
Iri, I think you make a good point. In fact, despite what the good professor says, a polyglot and a multilingual person, are the same thing to me. I guess the meaning of words depends on how they’re used by speakers of the language. I would think a lot of English native speakers don’t know the word polyglot, let alone the word polyglottery. This could change in the future.
I think that a polyglot or multilingual person will certainly have some knowledge of the cultures behind the languages that they speak, and to that extent they are multicultural.
I do agree with Alex that language learning, at least successful language learning, is largely an autodidactic process
I think I take the view of the professor, although I am not sure to understand it correctly.
I associate the word ‘multilingual’ with the word ‘bilingual.’ These two words, to me, refer to anyone who posses functional ability in multiple languages. Polyglots, or perhaps diglots, are those who study more than two languages intentionally.
My mother who is a native of two languages, but studied neither one is bilingual but not a diglot.
I am both bilingual and a diglot, since I learned my second language intentionally.
Do you have a link about this conference? I did a google search and nothing came up. I’d go regardless of which city it’s in. As a francophile, I’d prefer Montreal, but living in the Southeast I admit New York would be a little closer!
I looked these words up and agree with Iri: in German dictionaries both terms are considered as synonyms.
Polyglott is based on Greece, multilingual on Latin.
In the majority of my SLA classes for linguistics, the term mulitlingual would be associated with someone who was raised with mulitple languages and therefore has probably never “studied” them intentionally. The term polyglot on the other hand definitely includes the idea of self studied for the sake of learning them.
For example, one of my professors was born in India and then moved to Japan. Because her parents spoke Hindi at home and she went to school in India for a number of years, she knows Hindi, but never had to study it the way people do here on Lingq. She also knows Japanese because she went to school there up through high school and began in elementary. Of course she did take Japanese in school, the same way we take English here in the United States, but it is not the same as trying to learn it as a second language. Finally, she also knows English because the community in India and the school she attended used English as a primary language. Although she does make a couple of idiomatic errors when using English, she does pass as a native speaker in my opinion and most other people’s opinion as well.
She would be considered multilingual because all three of her languages were learned as a child and she never had to intensively study them to acquire them. A polyglot is someone like the professor or Mr. Kaufmann who have spent huge amounts of time studying and learning the language intentionally.
So I do believe there is a difference. Some people are simply raised multilingual. In fact, over half the world is raised multilingual. However, very few people are polyglots.
The meaning of words is determined by usage. Most English speakers may never have heard the word “polyglot” and if they have they would take it to mean someone who speaks many languages, the same as “multilingual”. In any dictionary I have seen, the meanings are the same.
Alex Arguelles or the person teaching the SLA class may choose to create a distinction between the two terms, but for most people these terms are interchangeable.
To learn to speak a language fluently you need lots of exposure and eventually the chance to speak a lot. Whether you acquire this naturally from your environment, or more deliberately later, the process is largely the same, in my view.
I agree with you on many points. I want to say that I do not think you are incorrect, especially about the meaning of words being determined by usage. The way most people use the two words are synonymous, however in the academic world they are not. This is no different than many other words. For instance, most people use brave and courageous as synonyms. However, there is a difference between them. So perhaps, we can agree that for the public perception, the two words are interchangeable, but for more specialized discourse they are not?
I would like to quote your response on another thread, “Successful polyglots also have an efficient attitude towards language learning. They are capable of transposing themselves into the position of a person of a different culture. They have developed techniques that work for them and therefore don’t waste their time. They also have developed an ability to notice what happens in the language.” These factors of attitude, transposing one’s self, and developed techniques are not true of the mulitlingual, only the polyglot. This is the difference that academic circles refer, but most people in the general public would not.
Also, to address your last comment, “To learn to speak a language fluently you need lots of exposure and eventually the chance to speak a lot. Whether you acquire this naturally from your environment, or more deliberately later, the process is largely the same, in my view.” I completely agree with this! I think learning ANYTHING is basically the same process.
The difference with multilingual and polyglottery isn’t so much the process per se. Rather it seems closer to the distinction between a native born San Diegan and an immigrant. They both live in San Diego and they both are considered citizens or residents of the city. However, one is born into the city and one chooses to move there and learn about it intentionally. I don’t see why we having a term like “immigrant” for someone who chooses to move to a city or country is any different than having a term like “polyglot” for those people that choose to “move” into the language by choice, rather than being born into it.
Just a few more of my thoughts. I never know how my writing sounds via the distance of the internet, so I hope it has no tones of conflict or animosity! You are definitely my largest inspiration when it comes to learning and studying other languages. I simply have a different view point on this topic!
Thanks so much.
“These factors of attitude, transposing one’s self, and developed techniques are not true of the mulitlingual, only the polyglot. This is the difference that academic circles refer, but most people in the general public would not.”