Which person can speak the most languages?

Who is the person known to speak the most languages and how many does he/she speak?

Before you can answer the question, there needs to be criteria for how well each language needs to be spoken before it counts.

I agree with Shagnasty. Here, however, is Wiki’s list of polyglots. That should get us started.

…and what constitutes a “language”.

We also need clarification whether the person needs to be currently alive. The OP was in the present tense, but that might not have been meant to be restrictive.

Yeah, I mean which person (currently alive and on record) can speak the most languages. Language meaning, a way different people communicate verbally with each other.

That’s a terrible definition of “language”, but it’s your OP so if that’s the question you’re asking, good luck with it. I doubt there is a factual answer, though.

I’ll start the bidding with Sir Richard F. Burton (1821–1890) - 29 European, African and Asian languages.

Look back at the OP’s clarification. Richard Burton (as per your post) is most definitely dead.

I speak fluent Rigellian.

I’m speaking it now.

“I got better!” - RFB

Damn you! I know that! Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting to use that fact in a discussion.

Are you serious? I mean, number two of Websters says exactly what I stated:

2 a : form or manner of verbal expression;
Please explain how you think it’s “terrible” definition. Also, please explain how you don’t know what I mean? Speak to me in a language I can understand.

I nominate myself, but I am 100% certain a large number of dopers can do better.

I speak one language natively, three more fairly fluently, a fifth conversationally, and #s 6 & 7 haltingly. I can communicate at a fairly elementary level (say, a year or two of college language X) in about three more, for a total of:


depending on how you count. I assume you’re going for speaking ability rather than reading, which is a different ballgame. (I know people who can read over a hundred different languages, though I am not one of them!)

But all of these languages are Indo-European (and thus have similar grammars and a large overlap in vocabulary). It really is true that the more languages you learn, the easier they are to pick up. #2 was hard. #3 was sort of hard. #4 was pretty easy. Oh, and I have an obvious American accent in all of them.

It’s polite to read links before you post. Doctor Who’s Wiki link lists:

All of them are listed above Sir Richard Burton.

My ex siter-in-law can converse fluetently in english, croatian, bosnian, russian, sapanish, french, italian and japanees…and she is a REAL NASA rocket scientist.

does she win?


The problem here is how do you define one language from another? Are Serbian and Croation different languages? How about the “dialects” of Chinese? Standard American English (if there is such a thing) and Black Vernacular English? That definition is just fine for defining language in general, but it doesn’t do us much good in trying to figure out how many languages someone speaks, because we don’t know what counts as a separate language.

A language in the sense of what I’m asking is this, if one group of people speak to each other and understand each other, that’s a language. If they speak the same language to a group of people living say…30 miles away from them and that group doesn’t understand them, then that must mean that group speaks a different language.

If the actual words don’t make sense to another group living in the same area, then it’s is considered a different language. Dialect doesn’t count. What I mean by that is, British and American people both speak English and a lot of words may be altered, but it’s still English.

Exapno Mapcase: I did read the link, thank you. I apologize if my post was rude; that was certainly not my intent.

I was trying to respond taking into account both the OP and post #2. The Wikipedia article only lists “highest claims,” and in most cases it doesn’t attempt to define how the languages are counted and thus whether they meet the criterion of the OP: actually speaking the languages.

I think most professional lingusts could reasonably claim a pretty high place on that list. I was thinking of V. V. Ivanov when I mentioned someone who could read over a hundred; I would back him against István Dabi in a translation fight any day. I suspect he is also fluent in at least a dozen, but I don’t know how to verify that.

Because it does not address the thorniest issue of all-- the divison between a dialect and a language. If I speak Croatian and Serbian, does that count as two languages? If I can sign ASL, that is not included in your definition.