I have always been involved with different languages for as long as I can remember (and I have a rather good memory in this area) whether it was speaking one language at school, another at home or a third with friends and siblings.
Before I start I should mention that I have interests in so many things that there are days when I don’t even know what to start with (write something, watch something, learn a new language, bake a new cake, learn a new origami design or read a new book about a new philosopher.
This time I would like to talk about polymaths. Polymaths have been a fascination of mine like no other. There have been plenty of polymaths in history, and the only modern polymath I can think of this very second (in my opinion) would perhaps be James Franco but I would like to name a few older ones (Bertrand Russell, Avicenna, Leonardo da Vinci) just to mention a few.
These mentioned polymaths were individuals who had immense knowledge within completely different areas of studies. Take da Vinci, many would automatically associate him with his paintings, thus painter. But did you know he was actually famous for far more things than just that one occupation. He was actually also an engineer, inventor and architect among many other things.
Old sketches and such have been found as evidence that illustrate an idea for helicopters or airplanes, which da Vinci drew (we’re talking in the year 1400-1500’s people) it is insane in my opinion. I mention this because it is to illustrate that polymaths were/are people who have an incredible ability to understand subjects within different fields and often, if not always, in fields that have absolutely nothing or very little to do with each other.
Now I mentioned three polymaths, so I cannot help but talk about the other two as well. So to say that Bertrand Russell which I also mentioned, was known as a leading mathematician (and many other things), and this was surprising for me because I read a book of his once (The Conquest of Happiness, 1930) which made me think he must definitely be a writer and philosopher but that’s about it, therefore when I found out about his mathematician field in a course of mine at my university, you can imagine it raising quite the confusion whether we were actually talking about the same person.
But nevertheless, after I found out about Russell’s expertise in various fields I started to get a grasp and cohesive understanding of his book (the one I read) because suddenly things that didn’t make sense at first now made sense to me. I was wondering why a writer or philosopher would write a book about how to achieve happiness via a set of ground rules/approaches, it seemed rather systematic to me and not as abstract in some way (as I would rather see a philosopher or writer be), it was just very logical and definite in its approach, but now I knew “well he was also a mathematician, therefore he probably saw things more systematical or categorical”.
This I mention, because it is something I love about polymaths, which is that if they cannot convince someone of a view of theirs because the receiver does not comprehend what is being said/thought/expressed, then they can simply persuade the receiver with another approach (in another field of knowledge of theirs).
Lastly, the Persian polymath Avicenna, whom I thought only to be a poet/philosopher, suddenly turned out to be so many other things after I did some research. He was not just a poet or philosopher, many regard him as the father of modern medicine, and a leading figure in, if not father as well, a part of physics namely the concept of momentum. Thus I mention this briefly to underline the effect these polymaths had.
They did not only effect one field of our knowledge they effected many different ones. And hereby I can turn to the main point in all of this, which is – what does this have anything to do with me loving/wanting to learn new languages.
That is because, I grew up with different languages being a part of my every day: I spoke my mother tongue(s) with my parents (Pashto and Farsi), I spoke German and Danish at school and with friends, I spoke English with my siblings and now at my University and I was exposed to the Indian language (and picked up some understanding of it) because my siblings were fluent in it. This is to say that as much as I have loved the idea of polymaths then I still don’t know what came first: my interest in many languages leading me to knowing about polymaths or having an interest in polymaths thus wanting to develop my many interests, (it’s the chicken and egg story).
But nonetheless, of course just because I want to learn new languages that will not make me a polymath, it would make me a polyglot. But what I feel I get from my fascination with polymaths is that they have given me motivation and reasoning for why I want to learn new languages. Which is because I want to be able to connect with different people/cultures, I want to be able to express myself to someone in their native tongue so that they can understand me better and I can understand them.
This is what I think learning languages will give me: a connection to a completely different person with different beliefs/views because I see language deeply if not impenetrably rooted in culture. Thus if you break through the language barrier you will grasp and understand so many different areas of knowledge the language will give you (knowledge about history, culture, arts, values). Thus in some way you do become a polymath of some sort because you can be enriched with so many different areas of expertise every language can give you.
Lastly, I have mentioned in my ‘About page’ which languages I speak, but I would like to just mention the next language I have started to learn is Korean and sometime in the future I might even venture out in French or Italian.