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Babel no more : the search for the world's…

Babel no more : the search for the world's most extraordinary language… (edition 2012)

by Michael Erard

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135989,677 (3.54)5
Title:Babel no more : the search for the world's most extraordinary language learners
Authors:Michael Erard
Tags:multilingualism, multilinguisme, plurilinguisme, plurlingvismo, erard, Michael Erard

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




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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This book is filled with quite a bit of interesting information an anecdotes, but it's hard to walk away from this and feel like I really learned much about how hyperpolyglots actually come to be. But the author acknowledges as much and even discusses some of the reasons for his failure to discern the answer to this question. In fact, if anything, some of the most interesting points in the book are about why this is such a difficult, if not impossible, thing to determine. ( )
  tlockney | Sep 7, 2014 |
Pay attention to the subtitle... this is a book, not specifically about the world's most extraordinary language learners, but rather the search for them. Along the way, we are treated to a discussion, never truly resolved, on what it means to learn a language, how the brains of a polyglots work, and what would motivate a person to learn so many languages.

As a lifelong learner and lover of languages myself, I was interested to find similarities to myself, but also many differences. It really caused me to consider what my goal is in language acquisition.

This was an interesting read, and although it did not contain many answers, to be fair, it did not purport to. Instead, it presented one man's quest to research this phenomenon, to understand it, and to subject it to greater scientific inquiry. ( )
  shabacus | Jan 20, 2014 |
More of a "personal tale of discovery" than actual research, but I think it mostly turned out more readable that way (barring a few glaringly forced cliffhangers.) If you've ever been fascinated by the idea of learning lots of languages, and the people who do so... it's a great book for shredding illusions, and making clear just how much *work* is involved even for the people for whom it comes easily. The book also goes interesting *places* (fitting, as an interest in foreign languages often - though as the author discovers, *not* universally - ties to an interest in the foreign places that go with them) as it follows the author's research journey and historical explorations.

There is a little neuroscience, but it's mostly a source of things to look up elsewhere, and the author deserves credit for not spinning wild theories on top of it. ( )
  eichin | May 10, 2013 |
(Actually a present to Richard from his brother.)

I'd like to give this book 3.5 stars really - it was a fun and interesting read, but flawed in that like so many similar books packaged up for the general reader, it's actually a bit overwritten in places. We don't necessarily need to know the colourful details of your travels across Europe looking for hyperpolyglots, thanks. The actual hyperpolyglot stuff, investigated from the neuropsychology and the historical angles, is great, however; very interesting.

Not sure how much of this book will remain with me after 6 months; but I will take away the concept of the hyperpolyglot, and the nuances of what it means to know a language. ( )
  comixminx | Apr 5, 2013 |
This book quickly began at 5 stars for me, but dropped to three by the end. I did enjoy it, and I do recommend it, however.

The author sets the book essentially as an epic quest to find, as the title suggests, the most extraordinary language learners. Really, we're speaking less of people who learn well, so much as people who learn many languages, followed by argument about how well these "Hyperpolyglots" learn, how deeply they learn, and to what end. As a person who enjoys language and the learning of new language, I was deeply interested in this book.

Beginning with a case study of one historic polyglot, for what to me felt a little long, we eventually make our way to some other historic cases, then at last to some living examples. However, as the author comes into contact with brain researchers, and (IMO) hampered by his own admitted "positivism", here expressed by a need to use numerical data to squeeze meaning out of case study, we digress into a number of speculations about the functioning of the brain, accompanied by (in case the author is reading, I apologize quite sincerely, but it must be said) possibly the most awkward descriptive model of locations within the human brain, ever. I'm sure some people will be quite happy with it, but trying to picture hands upon a tilted inflatable globe of the world in order to picture where a discrete tissue structure isn't doing it for me. Consider including a picture of the brain, with labels in the back of the book, or perhaps just referencing some high-quality pictures on the book/author/publisher website we could consult for a future edition to accompany the globe idea. I ended up thinking about the scene in Chaplin's The Great Dictator where the Adenoid Hynkel character dances around with a globe-balloon.

The book is at it's absolute strongest in the middle, where having finally moved on from the first figure, we find other stories, and then meet some living people. At this point, you're going to be hooked. At this point, the book has earned 5 stars from me.

One star was lost simply through endless re-explanations of possible causality, accompanied by "cliff-hanger" style breaks in the text implying some amazing discovery or unbelievable event. I'm still not totally sure what jaw-dropping thing we were being lead to about Krebs' brain. Increased white matter someplace around Omaha, Nebraska or a pinkie around Gibraltar, I'll guess.

But where the book bogs down, and thus losing the other star comes nearer the end, where contradictions begin to arise. While saying there's no connection between this and that, he suggests there are. While more or less suggesting non-polyglots have a dimwitted obsession with methodology, he continually returns to breathless descriptions of it for every case study, and even closes the book with a number of suggestion sections complete with italics. The book spends so much energy building it's own vocabulary of power words that by the end, you'll be reading sentences about neural tribes of hyperpolyglottery (should that be hyperpolyglotteracy though?) who promote brain plasticity through managed dopamine and executive function training.

All in all, while I have loads of complaints with the book, I DID actually enjoy reading it, and if the subject matter resonates with you, you SHOULD read this book. Yes, I spent some time just now giving it and the author a hard time. A little less reliance on hard numbers (or MORE, proving something), and a few less literary "devices" (like the recapitulation-coda ending, cliffhangers, emotionally charged language where events don't warrant) and this would have easily been a 5 star book. I rarely give 5 stars, and I don't START at 5 for books, they have to earn them, and this book did just that. It just gave two away by the end is all. ( )
  wjmcomposer | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
The book chronicles his adventures in tracking down hyperpolyglots and the evidence they left behind, and Erard charms with his indefatigable curiosity. Babel No More tells an extraordinary tale of extraordinary people.
Although Babel No More is dense with . . . well-observed detail, Erard flounders when he attempts to locate the physical basis of hyperpolyglots' abilities in the brain.
added by Katya0133 | editWilson Quarterly, Nathalie Lagerfeld (Mar 1, 2012)
Erard's engaging account follows his research into Mezzofanti and other multilinguals . . . as he attempts to learn whether their talent lies inherent in us all, or is a function of a rare sort of brain wiring. And, most intriguingly, whether hyperpolyglotism extracts a cost in some other area of cognitive function.
added by Katya0133 | editMaclean's, Brian Bethune (Feb 13, 2012)
Among the most surprising qualities of “Babel No More,” Michael Erard’s globe-trekking adventure in search of the world’s virtuosos of language learning, is that a book dealing with language acquisition and polyglot linguistics can be so gripping.
A mesmerizing voyage into the thickets of questions about what it means to be human.
added by Katya0133 | editKirkus (Nov 1, 2011)
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Information from the Russian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
Catch a young swallow.

Roast her in honey.

Eat her up.

Then you will understand all languages.

--Folk magic incantation
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To sea-going travelers of 1803, pirates in the Mediterranean posted a terrifyingly reliable threat.
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Assesses historical "hyperpolyglot" linguistic high achievers who demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for learning and speaking languages, and explains the sources of such abilities and what it reveals about the nature of memory and language.

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