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Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners

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Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

We all learn at least one language as children. But what does it take to learn six languages, twenty . . . seventy? Such feats of linguistic prowess provide a glimpse into what the human brain is capable of—and hold up a mirror to our desire to live without language barriers on a shrinking planet. In Babel No More, Michael Erard, “a monolingual with benefits,” sets out on a quest to meet language superlearners and make sense of their mental powers. On the way he uncovers the secrets of historical figures like the nineteenth-century Italian cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, who was said to speak seventy-two languages and was such a legend that when he died people all over Europe vied for his skull. Emil Krebs, a pugnacious fin de siÈcle German diplomat, spoke sixty-eight languages, and Erard sees the evidence of this in Krebs’s dissected brain. Lomb KatÓ, a Hungarian hyperpolyglot who taught herself Russian by reading Russian romance novels, believed that “one learns grammar from language, not language from grammar.” These massive multilinguals have long offered a natural experiment into the limits of the brain; here, at last, we can inspect the results.

On his way to tracking down the one man who could be called the most linguistically talented person in the world, Erard meets other living language-superlearners. Among them is Alexander, a modern-day polyglot with dozens of languages who shows him the tricks of the trade and gives him a dark glimpse into the life of obsessive language acquisition. “I came to consider him as a holy man,” writes Erard. “Others do yoga; Alexander does grammatical exercises.”

With his ambitious examination of what language is, where it lives in the brain, and the cultural implications of polyglots’ pursuits, Erard explores the upper limits of our ability to learn and to use languages, and illuminates the intellectual potential in everyone. How do some people escape the curse of Babel—and what might the gods have demanded of them in return?

Synopsis:

In the tradition of the bestsellers Word Freak and The Language Instinct comes a fascinating exploration of linguistic superlearners whose abilities shed light on the intellectual potential in us all.

What do an Italian cardinal, a Connecticut blacksmith, and a German diplomat have in common with an MIT linguist, a Hungarian translator, and a Scottish church organist? They were all “hyperpolyglots,” “language superlearners,” or “massive multilinguals.” In Babel No More, Michael Erard delves into the lives and minds of these intriguing individuals both past and present and discovers the upper limit of the human ability to learn, speak, and remember languages.

Hyperpolyglots—people who, by one definition, can use six or more languages—are fascinating not simply because what they do is out of the ordinary. Rather, their accomplishments serve as a point of reference for the rest of us—in some ways they are what the author calls a gifted neural tribe, absorbing language for reasons, and with methods, that few people would emulate. But they are also marked by simple, if dogged, methods—the most prolific multilingual in history, Cardinal Mezzofanti, used flashcards. Taken together, their pursuits present a natural experiment into the limits and the nature of memory and language.

Part scientific detective story, part travelogue, part valentine to anyone who’s ever hoped to sprechen or parler something other than a mother tongue, Babel No More takes us all over the world to look at language learning in an entirely new way.

Synopsis:

In the tradition of the bestsellers andlt;Iandgt;Word Freakandlt;/Iandgt; and andlt;Iandgt;The Language Instinctandlt;/Iandgt; comes a fascinating exploration of linguistic superlearners whose abilities shed light on the intellectual potential in us all. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;What do an Italian cardinal, a Connecticut blacksmith, and a German diplomat have in common with an MIT linguist, a Hungarian translator, and a Scottish church organist? They were all and#8220;hyperpolyglots,and#8221; and#8220;language superlearners,and#8221; or and#8220;massive multilinguals.and#8221; In andlt;Iandgt;Babel No Moreandlt;/Iandgt;, Michael Erard delves into the lives and minds of these intriguing individuals both past and present and discovers the upper limit of the human ability to learn, speak, and remember languages.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; Hyperpolyglotsand#8212;people who, by one definition, can use six or more languagesand#8212;are fascinating not simply because what they do is out of the ordinary. Rather, their accomplishments serve as a point of reference for the rest of usand#8212;in some ways they are what the author calls a gifted neural tribe, absorbing language for reasons, and with methods, that few people would emulate. But they are also marked by simple, if dogged, methodsand#8212;the most prolific multilingual in history, Cardinal Mezzofanti, used flashcards. Taken together, their pursuits present a natural experiment into the limits and the nature of memory and language. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; Part scientific detective story, part travelogue, part valentine to anyone whoand#8217;s ever hoped to andlt;Iandgt;sprechenandlt;/Iandgt; or andlt;Iandgt;parlerandlt;/Iandgt; something other than a mother tongue, andlt;Iandgt;Babel No Moreandlt;/Iandgt; takes us all over the world to look at language learning in an entirely new way.

About the Author

Michael Erard isn't a polyglot. He considers himself a monolingual with benefits. A native American English speaker, he's lived in South America and Asia, where he learned to speak Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, but please don't ask him to say anything in those languages. He has graduate degrees in linguistics and rhetoric from the University of Texas at Austin. He's written about language, linguists, and linguistics for Science, Seed, Wired, The Atlantic, The New York Times, New Scientist, and many other publications, and is a contributing writer for The Texas Observer and Design Observer. His first book, Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, is a natural history of things we wish we didn't say (but do), as well as a look at what happens in our culture when we do (and wish we didn't), was published in 2007. Michael was awarded the Dobie Paisano Writing Fellowship in 2008 to work on Babel No More.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781451628258
Author:
Erard, Michael
Publisher:
Free Press
Subject:
Linguistics
Subject:
Linguistics - General
Subject:
Literacy
Subject:
Language acquisition; Linguistics; polyglots; Language skills; learning new languages; hyperpolyglots
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Hardback
Publication Date:
20120131
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Index, notes
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8 x 5 in

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Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners Used Hardcover
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Product details 320 pages Free Press - English 9781451628258 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , In the tradition of the bestsellers Word Freak and The Language Instinct comes a fascinating exploration of linguistic superlearners whose abilities shed light on the intellectual potential in us all.

What do an Italian cardinal, a Connecticut blacksmith, and a German diplomat have in common with an MIT linguist, a Hungarian translator, and a Scottish church organist? They were all “hyperpolyglots,” “language superlearners,” or “massive multilinguals.” In Babel No More, Michael Erard delves into the lives and minds of these intriguing individuals both past and present and discovers the upper limit of the human ability to learn, speak, and remember languages.

Hyperpolyglots—people who, by one definition, can use six or more languages—are fascinating not simply because what they do is out of the ordinary. Rather, their accomplishments serve as a point of reference for the rest of us—in some ways they are what the author calls a gifted neural tribe, absorbing language for reasons, and with methods, that few people would emulate. But they are also marked by simple, if dogged, methods—the most prolific multilingual in history, Cardinal Mezzofanti, used flashcards. Taken together, their pursuits present a natural experiment into the limits and the nature of memory and language.

Part scientific detective story, part travelogue, part valentine to anyone who’s ever hoped to sprechen or parler something other than a mother tongue, Babel No More takes us all over the world to look at language learning in an entirely new way.

"Synopsis" by , In the tradition of the bestsellers andlt;Iandgt;Word Freakandlt;/Iandgt; and andlt;Iandgt;The Language Instinctandlt;/Iandgt; comes a fascinating exploration of linguistic superlearners whose abilities shed light on the intellectual potential in us all. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;What do an Italian cardinal, a Connecticut blacksmith, and a German diplomat have in common with an MIT linguist, a Hungarian translator, and a Scottish church organist? They were all and#8220;hyperpolyglots,and#8221; and#8220;language superlearners,and#8221; or and#8220;massive multilinguals.and#8221; In andlt;Iandgt;Babel No Moreandlt;/Iandgt;, Michael Erard delves into the lives and minds of these intriguing individuals both past and present and discovers the upper limit of the human ability to learn, speak, and remember languages.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; Hyperpolyglotsand#8212;people who, by one definition, can use six or more languagesand#8212;are fascinating not simply because what they do is out of the ordinary. Rather, their accomplishments serve as a point of reference for the rest of usand#8212;in some ways they are what the author calls a gifted neural tribe, absorbing language for reasons, and with methods, that few people would emulate. But they are also marked by simple, if dogged, methodsand#8212;the most prolific multilingual in history, Cardinal Mezzofanti, used flashcards. Taken together, their pursuits present a natural experiment into the limits and the nature of memory and language. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; Part scientific detective story, part travelogue, part valentine to anyone whoand#8217;s ever hoped to andlt;Iandgt;sprechenandlt;/Iandgt; or andlt;Iandgt;parlerandlt;/Iandgt; something other than a mother tongue, andlt;Iandgt;Babel No Moreandlt;/Iandgt; takes us all over the world to look at language learning in an entirely new way.
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