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If bilingual means you know two languages, and trilingual means you know three, what would be the proper term for knowing four, five or even six languages?

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Now, for the term in the opposite direction, that's a classical joke: What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American. –  hlovdal Aug 26 at 17:43
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I would answer "polylingual" or "polyglot" or something else along those lines; but technically, the prefix "poly" tends to start at three, and not at four. –  Panzercrisis Aug 26 at 17:51

4 Answers 4

up vote 47 down vote accepted

Polyglot:

  • person having a speaking, reading, or writing knowledge of several languages.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/polyglot

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Once, twice, thrice, many. That's all we use in English. And trilingual isn't used often. –  John Lawler Aug 25 at 13:58
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And we use quintessence, sextuplets, and Septuagint as well. But they're fossils of the Latin embedded in English words. They're not productive. –  John Lawler Aug 25 at 15:23
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@JohnLawler And octopuses! Don't forget the octopuses! (Yeah, all right, so it's Greek—the number bit is still the same.) –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 25 at 15:31
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@JanusBahsJacquet Isn't that octopi? –  Angew Aug 25 at 17:47
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@Angew Definitely not, no. Octopi is by far my least favourite plural of that word. Personally, I quite like octopodes and usually use that, but I’m slowly moving toward octopuses. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 25 at 18:04

Multilingual:

A multilingual person, in a broad definition, is one who can communicate in more than one language, be it actively (through speaking, writing, or signing) or passively (through listening, reading, or perceiving). More specifically, the terms bilingual and trilingual are used to describe comparable situations in which two or three languages are involved. A multilingual person is generally referred to as a polyglot. Poly (Greek: πολύς) means "many", glot (Greek: γλώττα) means "language".

From Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multilingualism#Multilingual_individuals

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Multilingualism focuses on communication rather than mastering the language with its all aspects. Though, multilingual is used as a synonym of polyglot also. –  ermanen Aug 25 at 18:36
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@ermanen the OP asked about knowing several languages, not mastering them :) –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Aug 27 at 8:08
    
@Donaudampfschifffreizeitfahrt: I know. I'm giving extra information and mentioning the differences. –  ermanen Aug 27 at 12:57

quadrilingual:

Able to speak four languages.

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Unfortunately, this limits the meaning to only 4 languages. –  user1306322 Aug 25 at 14:11
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The question makes it sound like he needs the equivalent of "trilingual" for 4, 5 and 6. –  Pierre Arlaud Aug 25 at 14:42
    
@PierreArlaud that's exactly right, but polyglot also works. –  Ryan J Aug 25 at 19:43
    
quintilingual and sextlingual? –  JamesRyan Aug 27 at 13:53
    
Reference, please. –  tchrist Aug 30 at 21:29

If you know more than 3 languages, you are supertrilingual.

(Which, of course, you can shorten to just being "super" :)

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You need another closing parenthesis to close the opening one after the smiley. (: –  Neeku Aug 25 at 13:52
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@Neeku: I actually like that the paren is expressing two concepts at once (it's bisemic :) –  Dan Bron Aug 25 at 14:03
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Haha, nice logic @Dan. Had never thought of it that way. They usually bug me, so I make nested brackets/parentheses! xD –  Neeku Aug 25 at 14:06
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@KyleMit Awesome. I hadn't seen this one. (: One option is using RTL emoticons just like mine. There won't be a mismatch then. xD –  Neeku Aug 25 at 16:12

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