If you are debating what to call yourself when you speak more than three languages, you are not alone. Many people call themselves “Linguists” and have the misconception of what a linguist is, and what a linguist does.
A linguist is a person who has studied the language, I say “The” language because many linguists usually spend most of their time studying one language (often, their own). Although a vast majority of linguists speak more than one language; when it comes to careers, it is not required.
A linguist is a person who knows everything about their language. The history, phonology, syntax, semantics, grammar, etc. You may speak, understand, read and write more than three languages but that doesn’t make you a linguist, that makes you a “Polyglot.”
The word “Polyglot” comes from greek. “Poly” which means “Many” and “Glot” which means “Tongue.”
Now, when you speak one language you are a “Monolingual.” “Mono” comes from greek that means “single,” or “one.” Then we have “Bi” that means “two.” Bilingual. And last we have “Tri” which obviously means “three.” Tri-lingual. Now, Linguists (the real ones) have discovered that languages are meant to be fluent, and when words are too difficult to be pronounced and/or understood by their own native speakers, Linguists have to make a decision; either fix the word in a way that is easier to say, or create a new one. If you speak four languages, and if you try to call yourself a “Quadrilingual” or “quinquelingual” besides sounding arrogant, it would be a bit difficult to pronounce. These words are too long and also are not often used, if not used at all. That is why, if you speak four languages or more, you call yourself a “Polyglot.” Simply because is shorter, it sounds credible, more professional, and sometimes it can even be a bit exotic.
So, that’s the difference between a Linguist and a Polyglot. Now, if you ask me… I am both.
Written by: Edoardo Ceron.