In English the conventional terms are polyglot and multilingual. Of course. But what about polylingual and multiglot? Are these acceptable? Are they understandable? Can’t we just freely combine any “combining forms” like multi, poly, mis, dis, un, im, in, graph, kilo, auto, and so on?
Webster’s New World Dictionary (4th edition) has the following definitions of the traditional terms: polyglot and multilingual.
multilingual adj. [L < multus, much, many < IE base * mel-, strong, big > Gr mala, very combining form. ME < ML lingualis < L lingua:]
of or in several languages
using or capable of using several languages
These words entered English historically at different times: polyglot directly from Greek and multilingual through Middle English and (Middle) Latin. By convention we tend to combine Greek with Greek forms and Latin with Latin. However, descriptively I know of no real obstacle to being creative. Editors will surely shutter now. Apologies. But why not play with English.
We could create synonyms by crossing basic forms. For example, try Latin magna- instead of Greek mega- or macro- (all three mean ‘large or great’) and Latin urban instead of Greek politan (both basically mean ‘related to cities’). The results would be magnapolitan or mega-urban or macro-urban. Works for me. With all the roots from Latin and Greek, the possible combinations are numerous.
Let’s spice up our dull texts from time to time and be the first with a new twist on old words. Just for fun or at least in a blog.
If you live in Indiana or Tennessee, it may never occur to you to use the spellings organise, colour or oenology. Actually you might never use oenology, or the American counterpart enology for that matter, unless you are a true wine enthusiast. By the same token, if you live in London or Dublin, you would never consider using color or flavor. You may however use organize instead of organise, especially if you are an academic or follow Oxford Dictionaries’ spelling preferences.
But this situation appears to be changing with the increase in exposure to all regional varieties of English. And the common ground of course is the Internet, or if you prefer, the internet. Now we all have access to any corner of the world from our own living rooms, kitchens or local cafés.
During the last three decades I have lived in five countries and taught English to many non-native speakers, as well as native English speakers in the US at the university level. Foreign students of English are often exposed to a variety of “Englishes”, and often they don’t even realize there are variations of English. Add in their exposure to English worldwide on the Internet – the good, the bad and the truly ugly – and the result is a true hodgepodge of linguistic chaos. Pure anarchy.
Everyone is able to communicate in English, with some mishaps from time to time. So is there really a problem? For simply communicating, probably very little. For writing well and writing professionally. A lot. A heck of a lot. To use the colloquial, a helluva lot. (Yes, it is in Webster’s New World, 4th and 5th editions.)
Our common ground then is an English that can serve us as a useful tool to communicate both informally as well as an advanced tool for writing, be it for your own blog or to submit to The New York Times or the Financial Times.
Fortunately we are entering a time when there are more and more programs and tools to aid us in our writing endeavors (or endeavours). Under Links above, this blog will list some of the most useful sites and programs currently available.