Polyglot, as its Greek roots take no nice pains to hide, means the talking of a number of languages. Considerably much less apparent is the that means of the related time period hyperpolylot. “Coined twenty years in the past, by a British linguist, Richard Hudson, who was launching an Web seek for the world’s best language learner,” the New Yorker’s Judith Thurman writes, it refers not simply to the talking of a number of languages however the talking of many languages. What number of is “many”? “The accepted threshold is eleven,” which disqualifies even most of us avid language connoisseurs. However Vaughn Smith simply makes the lower.
You’ll be able to meet this formidable hyperpolyglot in the Washington Put up video above, which enhances Jessica Contrera’s story within the paper. Smith grew up in D.C. talking not simply English however Spanish, his mom’s native language. On his father’s facet of the household, distant cousins from Belgium expanded Smith’s linguistic worldview additional nonetheless.
At 46 years of age, he now speaks nearly as many languages, “with at the very least 24 he speaks properly sufficient to hold on prolonged conversations. He can learn and write in eight alphabets and scripts. He can inform tales in Italian and Finnish and American Signal Language. He’s educating himself Indigenous languages, from Mexico’s Nahuatl. to Montana’s Salish. The standard of his accents in Dutch and Catalan dazzle individuals from the Netherlands and Spain.”
In contrast to his fellow hyperpolyglot Ioannis Ikonomou, profiled in the Nice Massive Story video above, Smith shouldn’t be a translator. Nor does he work as a linguist, a diplomat, or the rest you’d count on. “Vaughn has been a painter, a bouncer, a punk rock roadie and a Kombucha supply man,” writes Contrera. “He was as soon as a canine walker for the Czech artwork collector Meda Mládková, the widow of an Worldwide Financial Fund governor,” which was “the closest he ever got here to having a profession that utilized his languages.” Having introduced him most lately to the occupation of carpet cleansing, Smith’s life resembles a beloved style of American story: that of the undiscovered working-class genius, most popularly instructed by motion pictures like Good Will Searching. Contrera’s investigation provides a chapter consistent with a significant Twenty first-century pattern in reportage: the mind activity-revealing purposeful magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan.
Underneath the fMRI scanner, “Vaughn works via a collection of assessments, studying English phrases, watching blue squares transfer round and listening to languages, some he is aware of and a few he doesn’t.” The outcomes had been shocking: “the elements of Vaughn’s mind used to grasp language are far smaller and quieter than mine,” writes the monoglot Contrera. “Even once we are studying the identical phrases in English, I’m utilizing extra of my mind and dealing tougher than he ever has to.” Maybe “Vaughn was born together with his language areas being smaller and extra environment friendly”; maybe “his mind began out like mine, however as a result of he discovered so many languages whereas it was nonetheless creating, his dedication remodeled his anatomy.” Smith himself appears to have loved the expertise — not that it took his thoughts off a matter of nice significance even to the much less intensive language-learners: preserving his Duolingo streak intact.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His tasks embrace the Substack publication Books on Cities, the ebook The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll via Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.