Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

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Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby mike92s8 » Wed 26 Aug 2009 5:45 pm

Anyone ever heard of this guy? I was reading about him on this website:

http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/e/ ... index.html

They also have a link to his Biography written in 1867.

38 languages and 40 dialects (40 dialects according to wikipedia)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mezzofanti
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby linguoboy » Wed 26 Aug 2009 6:04 pm

I'm very sceptical of such claims. What does it mean to speak a language "perfectly"? Are they really claiming that no Welsh-speaker could tell that Mezzofanti had learned Welsh as an adult? How does anyone know? Do we have the actual testimony of a native Welsh-speaker? If so, how can we be sure he was being completely honest rather than buttering the cardinal up or simply engaging in the kind of polite exaggeration that speakers of lesser-known languages are wont to do?

There have been some high-profile debunkings of modern hyperpolyglots, such as an appearance by one on Argentinian television where one couldn't understand basic queries in languages he claimed to have mastered. (The producers told him in advance what languages to expect but then had speakers of other languages. I think we can all agree that being able to cram a language given some lead time is not the same skill as "speaking" it.) This makes me particularly leery of taking at face value claims for which we have scanty evidence at best.
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby Sobekhotep » Thu 27 Aug 2009 12:42 am

mike92s8 wrote:Anyone ever heard of this guy?

I've heard of him. It would be amazing if he really could speak all those languages fluently.
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby mike92s8 » Thu 27 Aug 2009 12:43 am

Its a nice story though and I'm sure that at least some small part is truth. I bet he at least spoke Italian and Latin ;)
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby dtp883 » Thu 27 Aug 2009 5:47 am

mike92s8 wrote:Its a nice story though and I'm sure that at least some small part is truth. I bet he at least spoke Italian and Latin ;)

But so many people speak 2 or more language fluently it's not that special that some Cardinal from the 1800's spoke 2 or 3.
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby Talib » Thu 27 Aug 2009 7:57 am

He's supposed to have spoken many more than two, but barring evidence I'm not sure. How would he have learned Chinese, Persian and Coptic for example?
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby rickardspaghetti » Thu 27 Aug 2009 9:24 am

He's not that great. At least not compared to [urlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziad_Fazah]this guy[/url].
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby mike92s8 » Thu 27 Aug 2009 1:25 pm

Wow, now that guy is pretty amazing. Where did you hear about him?
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby linguoboy » Thu 27 Aug 2009 3:24 pm

Thanks, Rickard! That's actually the guy I was thinking about. Here's the video of his 1997 appearance on Viva el lunes (a Chilean programme, not Argentinian as I misstated earlier). Watch as he fails to respond in kind to questions in Finnish, Persian, and Russian in turn.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XA1Ifi-ntE
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Re: Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Postby Talib » Thu 27 Aug 2009 6:11 pm

He seemed to be okay with reading the Persian, but he failed utterly at grasping what the Russian speaker was saying. And wasn't there some Chinese in there too?

One interesting polyglot is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Tammet, a man with Asperger's syndrome (a so-called "savant"). I heard about him because of his televised appearance in which he was challenged to learn Icelandic in a week and speak it with natives on a talk show (which he did, very successfully).

As well, "Tammet holds the European record for reciting pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes."

Amazing what the human mind is capable of.
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