Latin of the Muslim World: The Role of Arabic in the Language Studies of Polyglot Timothy Doner

For many, learning even one language is considered a challenge.  Can you imagine trying to learn several?  How about before age 18?  In this interview with Lane Greene, author and editor of The Economist’s Johnson blog, 17-year-old polyglot Timothy Doner discusses his interest in linguistics and the reasons behind his decision-making when choosing a new language to study (for those curious as to which ones he has studied, he converses fluently in French, Mandarin and Russian at the end of the interview).  Discussing his decision to study Arabic and how it has helped him better comprehend other languages, Doner tells Greene: 

“I decided that I wanted to see how far I could push myself and do other languages like that.  And I started to find as well that if you know Arabic very well, in a lot of ways it’s the Latin of the Muslim world, in a sense that there are dozens, if not hundreds of languages that have loan words from Arabic or have taken in an enormous amount of Arabic vocabulary due to the historical influence of Islam.  So after that I started studying languages like Farsi, Indonesian, Swahili, Hindi and I found from there that it actually began to get easier, as odd as that sounds.  It is a bit counter-intuitive.”

Of course, language students with a learning ability comparable to Doner’s are rare.  However, if you are really passionate about Asian culture and wish to develop a useful foundation for learning additional Asian languages, learning Arabic makes sense.  Taking an Arabic class with GLN next fall is good way to get you started.  



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