Polyglot: How many is many?

I sometimes see the word “polyglot” on the LingQ forums.
I have two questions about polyglot people. If you are considered polyglot , at least how many languages are you supposed to use? Which country has the largest polyglot population?

“speaking or using many languages”(LDOCE)
“knowing or using several languages”(COED)

How many languages do you have to speak to be a polyglot?

I don’t think it would be easy to get agreement on this question. As far as I am concerned:

Speak 2 languages - bilingual
Speak 3 languages - trilingual
Speak 4 or more languages - polyglot

However, there is the difficult question of what a language is. Someone from China who can speak many different dialects, can he be considered a polyglot? Are Flemish and Dutch two different languages or dialects of the same language? You can get into a lot of arguments without definite answers.

“Which country has the largest polyglot population?”

I’d say it depends on the definition of “speak” and “language”, and how the languages are taught/learned.

Growing up in a country where it’s the norm to speak 2-4 languages/language varieties (each being used in a different socio-cultural context) is a bit different from growing up in in the West and have the opportunity to study even more languages in school/by choice.

cool by this definition I’m a polyglot! though most ukrainians are bilingual since they speak both ukrainian and russian so I have a slight advantage!

however Cantotango why stop at 3? why now

Speak 2 languages - bilingual
Speak 3 languages - trilingual
Speak 4 languages - tetralingual
Speak 5 languages - pentalingual
Speak 6 languages - exalingual
Speak 7 languages - eptalingual
Speak 8 languages - octolingual

lol I’m surprised that firefox spell check highlighted only 7,8 as “incorrect” so according to mozzila the number after which you become a polyglot is “6” lol. hehe helps that one of the languages I know is greek.

The never-ending discussion. The use of the word ‘polyglot’ and by extension ‘fluent’ are inherently vague words; ask ten linguists what they mean and they’ll likely give you inconsistent definitions. Like Jeff said, it depends a lot on how proficient you are, that is, whether you have enough capability in a particular language to add it to your list and count it as a language you actively know. If I had to blurt out a figure right now, I guess numbers of three and upwards would count as polyglottery since ‘one’ and ‘a couple’ aren’t very many, but ‘several’ seems to come closer to a lot of people who wear the polyglot label. Others say it should be at least four or five. I think Wikipedia describes a person with six languages as being a hyperpolyglot.

ok, did some more research, both according to thefreedictionary and wikipedia a polyglot is a person who speaks “several or more languages”, so I guess 3 and upwards is a polyglot

wow I’m surprised that the wikipedia page lists everyone who knows 10+ languages in a list, hehe and Steve Kaufmann is also there which is cool.

I guess we should all aim for

“Sir John Bowring[14] - reportedly spoke 100 languages, with knowledge of 200+.”


Random bit of trivia for today: There was a pretty cool New Zealander called Harold Williams who knew over 60 languages. He learned Russian and actually ended up meeting Tolstoy.

“I speak eight languages, Unfortunately I speak them all at the same time.”(from 5,000 ONE- AND TWO-LINE JOKES, Thorsons)

I just appeared to say that I am excited with all the topics discussed here, but mainly because of my terribly slow speed in typing of English, I can take part in none of these… I am far from being a polyglot…

By the way, what a difference do you find between “a speaker of several languages” and “polyglots”?

It’s extremely subjective: to me a polyglot sounds much more accomplished than me, with my German and English, plus a bit of this and a bit of that. A polyglot sounds grown up whereas I’m still only a teenager (in my mind!!!). By the way, your contribution doesn’t show that your typing is slow :slight_smile:


I like your expression “plus a bit of this and a bit of that” very much.
For you, a native speaker, this might be natural, but for me, this kind of expression is exciting
and can never be learned at school.

Oh, it took me a long time to type again! Sorry.

It is not the speed that matters! Thank you for the ‘native’. It took me a long time to learn English, it was my worst subject at school.


You made me laugh and relieved!

cherry6120 - no difference, “polyglot” is just a fancy way of saying “oooh look at me I speak many languages”


In japanese,too, there are such words that make us look as if we were smarter than we really are.
“oooh look at me I speak many languages” kind of words.

Languages share a lot of things that human beings act or behave wherever we are. Funny.

It’s funny, I would say I “know” three languages (English, German, French), yet I’m nowhere near in the league of someone like Richard Simcott. I mean seriously, if anyone is having trouble with the meaning of the word ‘awesome’, watch this: http://bit.ly/Dfjbp . I still feel I have a ways to go before I could apply the word “polyglot” to myself (not that it really matters in reality) and part of that requirement is speaking various languages regularly I think. Just need to press on…

That is why I prefer the word “linguist”. IN the Oxford dictionary it can mean someone who speaks more than one language. Unfortunately it does not seem to have this meaning in other languages. A violinist is someone who plays the violin, a pianist, an artist, etc. they all practice the skill. Wy does linguist someone who studies aspects of language and writes learned articles for his peers?

We are all linguists here! Let the world be full of linguists, no questions asked.

Further difficulties with naming “polyglot countries” is that no country (that I know of) registers which languages the population speak.

If a country has 10+ official languages, it doesn’t automatically mean that a majority of the population speaks them all. Maybe 3% speaks all of them, maybe 50% speak three or four, and maybe 90% speak two or three.

From Wikipedia:
“Many countries, such as Belgium, which are officially multilingual, may have many monolinguals in their population. Officially monolingual countries, on the other hand, such as France, can have sizable multilingual populations.”