Language aptitude: Insights from hyperpolyglots

Erard, M. (2019). Language aptitude: Insights from hyperpolyglots. In Z. Wen, P. Skehan, A. Biedroń, S. Li, & R. L. Sparks (Eds.), Language aptitude: Advancing theory, testing, research and practice (pp. 153-167). Abingdon, UK: Taylor & Francis.
Over the decades, high-intensity language learners scattered over the globe referred to as “hyperpolyglots” have undertaken a natural experiment into the limits of learning and acquiring proficiencies in multiple languages. This chapter details several ways in which hyperpolyglots are relevant to research on aptitude. First, historical hyperpolyglots Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, Emil Krebs, Elihu Burritt, and Lomb Kató are described in terms of how they viewed their own exceptional outcomes. Next, I draw on results from an online survey with 390 individuals to explore how contemporary hyperpolyglots consider the explanatory value of aptitude. Third, the challenges involved in studying the genetic basis of hyperpolyglottism (and by extension of language aptitude) are discussed. This mosaic of data is meant to inform the direction of future aptitude research that takes hyperpolyglots, one type of exceptional language learner and user, into account.
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