Polyglots – Riccardo Bertani

Polyglots are very interesting people. A polyglot is one who can speak more than 10 languages well. A great list of polyglots is here. The ability to be a polyglot seems to have a lot to do with genetics. Some people simply have an ear for languages. On dissection of the brains of some polyglots after death, it was found that their language centers were unusually developed. Many polyglots are also good at music. This is because a language is basically musical in a lot of ways. Rhythm and cadence have a lot more to do with language than we realize. Famous polyglots often go to a new country and pick up the language in a few weeks. This series will look at some polyglots. Riccardo Bertani (bio translated from the Italian here) is 75 years old and despite being a great autodidact, does not yet wear glasses, even to read. He lived with his mother and two cats his whole life (typical unmarried Italian man in that sense) and he has almost never left his home area of Reggio in the Province of Emilio-Romagnolo in northern Italy. A confirmed eccentric, he wakes up at 3 AM and studies until 9 AM every day. Then he goes about his chores, especially enjoying puttering about the garden. The house is strange. Books and manuscripts are everywhere. An old heater has blackened the ceiling, but he has not bothered to replace it. He has raised goats his whole life, and he’s never held a professorship. In addition to his linguistic scholarship, he is also an expert on toponymy and the science of beekeeping. Riccardo Bertani, incredibly enough, is able to read to and write to some extent over 100 different languages. He can’t speak them as well as he can read and write them, mostly because he has not been to the places where they are spoken to practice. In fact, he has seldom left Reggio. Well, once, he avers, he did go to Florence. That’s about 150 miles away. That’s about as far away as he has ever been from home. In his 20’s, son of a Communist mayor, he taught himself Russian. In a few months, he learned it and was also translating Ukrainian. He speaks, among other languages, Italian, Reggiano Emilian (his native language), Russian, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Etrurian, Lithuanian, Persian, Basque, Ainu, Etruscan, Mongolian, Mayan, Chechen, Yukaghir, Rutul (a Caucasian language), Karelian, Arabic, Gothic, Lombard, Oroch (a Tungus language of Siberia), Samoyedic and Saami.

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