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A polyglot is a person who is fluent in many languages, but what do we call a person who is fluent in only two or three languages?

Is bi-glot a proper term for this?

I don't think the words bilingual / trilingual fit the bill, because I am looking for a -glot word.

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Can you please explain why bilingual doesn't work? It's a bit unclear exactly what you're looking for. –  simchona Sep 4 '12 at 18:16
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Bilingual can be a noun, so it seems to fit fine. –  Mark Beadles Sep 4 '12 at 18:21
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@XavierVidalHernández OP asked for 2 or 3. –  Mark Beadles Sep 4 '12 at 18:24
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@MarkBeadles 2 --> bilingual | 3 --> trilingual - A person cannot speak 2 or 3 languages! –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Sep 4 '12 at 18:26
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Multilingual is another possibility, but doesn't exclude the speaker from knowing more than three languages. There is no term I'm aware of that would refer to a group of speakers that are fluent in "only 2 or 3" and this distinction may be too arbitrary to warrant a specific term (at least in common use). It would be like asking for a word for someone fluent in "only six or seven" languages. It's a somewhat arbitrary grouping. –  Zairja Sep 4 '12 at 18:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Bi-glot is wrong, because you’re used the Latin prefix on the Greek suffix.

It should be diglot (also occasionally spelled di-glott in the 19th century), which the OED reports is a noun and an adjective meaning:

Using or containing two languages, bilingual; expressed or written in two languages; also as sb. A diglot book or version (cf. polyglot).

There is also a corresponding triglot for three.

Most diglots and triglots are Bibles, not people.

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So biglot would be a diglot word? :) –  datageist Sep 4 '12 at 22:19
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@datageist No, it would be macaronic. –  tchrist Sep 4 '12 at 22:22
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di/tri - glot seem to be right . –  mataug Sep 5 '12 at 1:50

"Trilingual": adj. (of a person) speaking three languages fluently (Oxford Dictionary of English).

Merriam-Webster provides a similar definition for "trilingual":

adj. familiar with or able to use three languages

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If he is looking for a -glot word, Latin isn't going to do it. –  tchrist Sep 4 '12 at 20:58
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The OP expressly states, "I don't think the word bilingual fits the bill", and you give him trilingual. Facepalm. –  RegDwigнt Sep 4 '12 at 21:17
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@ЯegDwight To be fair, from the original question, it wasn't clear whether Gautam was familiar with the term "trilingual" and only afterward did the question explicitly ask for a -glot word. I think it was an attempt to fill in the blank since there is no word for someone who knows "only 2 or 3" languages (a person can either know only 2 or only 3) and the word for someone fluent in two languages was already given. Merriam-Webster and Collins English Dictionary define triglot as "a book or edition in three languages", but it's easy to extend this to speakers. I gave +1 to both answers. –  Zairja Sep 5 '12 at 11:30

Wikipedia opines that polyglot is in fact a valid word in these circumstances, and for a speaker of many languages there is the word hyperpolyglot. It also says that for two languages or three languages, bilingual and trilingual do “fit the bill”. Multilingual fits too, although I think I would prefer to reserve that for more than three languages since there is a word trilingual.

However, -lingual is an adjectival form and you would have to describe someone as being bilingual or a bilingual person. Bilinguist doesn’t really work, and nor does diglot (you would need the Greek di- prefix to use with -glot).

One might coin the words oligoglot or paucilinguist for someone who can speak a few languages, but I don’t think either will catch on.

So if you don't want to use bilingual then you are left with polyglot and multilingual.

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Oxford also attests bilingual, n., bilingual person. oaadonline.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/bilingual –  MετάEd Sep 4 '12 at 21:49
    
Well of course you can use it as a noun, just as you can use Chinese as a noun. But "three bilinguals walked into a pub"? Surely not. But whatever: I tend to be conservative. –  Andrew Leach Sep 4 '12 at 22:06
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Actually, yes. Oxford gives as an example the phrase "Spanish/English bilinguals". –  MετάEd Sep 4 '12 at 22:16
    
What I meant by my comment was: Dictionaries attest to previous usage (possibly even only a single occasion). They don't necessarily say what is actually widely used in practice, as we are continually being told in this site. I contend that, OUP notwithstanding, bilingual would be distinctly odd as a noun. Perhaps that's another transatlantic difference. –  Andrew Leach Sep 5 '12 at 9:19
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As someone who lived on the Mexican border for many years, I heard bilingual used as a noun a fair number of times. Its use as an adjective was more common, though. –  Zairja Sep 5 '12 at 11:17

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