What is Polyglottery?

A scholarly discipline

It embodies a quest to develop an encyclopedic mind and to philosophically understand the nature of your own consciousness through the passionate, in-depth, and respectful study of as many different languages as possible, focusing both upon their diachronic evolution as actual entities and upon the intellectual heritage they have left in the form of great texts. As an academic discipline, Polyglottery is the direct descendent and heir of Comparative Philology. However, whereas Comparative Philology had a tendency to focus inwards upon the origins of the Indo-European family in a nationalistic sense, Polyglottery faces outwards towards expanding the individual scholar’s horizons by imparting the ability to read classic texts of Great Books in the tongues of other civilizations.

Comparative Philology

Polyglottery can best be described as a wedding of resurrected Comparative Philology with Great Books education. For those who may not know, Comparative Philology was the term for what was done with both languages and literature when these were studied in tandem throughout the nineteenth century; it involved not only the comparative grammatical study of closely related language families, but also the cultures and literatures that these languages produced. As its core training, Comparative Philology demanded the in-depth study of many languages. Towards the twentieth century, as other fields of Linguistics developed, Comparative Philology was engulfed by them and, under the newer term of (comparative) historical linguistics, it is now only a relatively minor and unimportant branch of the whole discipline. Today, although the term "Linguistics" sounds as if it has to do with languages, it most often does not concern the actual study of foreign languages. Indeed, with the disappearance of Comparative Philology as an independent discipline, there is now no place for anyone who wants to study multiple foreign languages within the established academic paradigm, and the production of reference works such as dictionaries, grammars, and language manuals is not considered to be "research."

Alexander Arguelles propose resurrecting Comparative Philology with a difference under the term Polyglottery. The difference is that, whereas Comparative Philology focused only upon closely related languages, Polyglottery can and should involve the study of widely disparate languages as well. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, the work of the great nineteenth century scholars was so thorough that there is little left uninvestigated in the traditional areas of European Indo-European language families, and the grammars and dictionaries that they produced stand still today as standard reference works. Furthermore, while it is most instructive to employ the comparative method when studying phenomena that share many commonalities, given that this has been done and the results can be used as a foundational point of reference, the time is ripe for the study of Language itself as a commonality. Surely, in the ever shrinking global village, a group of scholars who learn and discuss the learning of a variety of different languages will come upon some new and interesting perspectives on Language as a whole. This is a worthwhile intellectual endeavor in and of itself, and in an era when many languages are in danger of extinction, the research scope of scholarly polyglots can include valuable documentation as a means of preservation, as well as the production of reference materials and better language learning courses that will help others learn languages from the perspective of those who have actually done it themselves multiple times.

Great Books education

As for the Great Books aspect of Polyglottery, this is also a logical return to the not-so-distant past, when philologists such as the brothers Grimm, Rask, F. Max Mueller, and others not only studied grammar but also folklore, the history of religions, and literature - in other words, when scholars in the humanities and the social sciences had a much broader range than they do in the hyper-specialized reality of today. The fact that the current degree of isolated, fragmented study is actually inimical and counterproductive to true understanding is recognized in many calls for interdisciplinary approaches, above all to the humanities, but these are most often relegated to an undergraduate core curriculum to be studied as a prelude to a specialized track. The study of literature and philosophy and history together as a unified whole in their original source material as Great Books is practiced as an entire well-rounded essence of continued life-long education only at a few select institutions, such as St. John's University in Annapolis and Santa Fe. However, there is little language instruction in such programs, even though it would seem to be a very logical step to say: if these books are so great that they are worth reading and rereading, then surely they are worth reading as they were written, that is, in their original tongues of composition. This is probably because there is an underlying presupposition that it is simply not possible for one person to read many languages well. It is, however, possible to do this, and the establishment of Polyglottery as an academic discipline will put this possibility in the reach of its practitioners, who will focus on learning multiple languages by means of and for the purpose of reading great texts in their original tongues. Thus it is that Polyglottery is a combination of these two naturally connected impulses for a complete and holistic humanistic education.

Teaching yourself languages

In order to learn a foreign language well, you must always invest much focused energy using intelligent study methods and good study materials with systematic regularity over long periods of time. In order to succeed, you must take and maintain active control of the learning process. Studying a language with a teacher as one would study other academic subjects all too often results in students remaining in a detrimentally passive mode, expecting their teacher to control the process and somehow impart the language to them. A good teacher may inspire you and provide you with external structure and discipline, but if you are a sufficiently serious and mature student, you are better off teaching yourself a language than enrolling in a course. In our day and age, good books with accompanying recordings are inherently better resources than living teachers for obtaining a foundation in foreign languages.