The section icon image above is taken from the title page of Burton's translation of Basile's il Pentamerone
It is widely known that Burton was a master linguist, of his day and any other. The most common claim is that he was a fluent user of 29 languages, as well as having some working grasp of a number of other languages and dialects.
To the best of my knowledge, an absolutely reliable list of the languages Burton read, wrote and spoke has never been compiled. This section of the site is to develop that list, with all appropriate annotations and attached resources.
This version is an incomplete outline sketch of what is to come. The list of languages will be expanded as verified instances of Burton's use of each are located, and each language entry will be supplemented with links to specific works and citations of Burton's work with or within that language.
Burton's early travels in Europe almost certainly laid the mental groundwork for his easy acquisition of languages. He spoke at least three languages by his early teens.
Burton's natal tongue.
Acquired during his youth residence in France.
- Provençal dialect
- Bearnais dialect
A street patois blending French, Spanish and Provençal, absorbed at about age 15 during a youth year in Marseilles and Pau.
Acquired during his youth residence in Italy. Tutoring began at about age 10.
- Neapolitan dialect
Began learning from a priest in Goa in 1843.
Would have been an essential language for duties in Trieste.
Latin and Greek would have been part of any young gentleman's education in Burton's day. Biblical languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic would have been studied primarily by those expected to go into the Church, as was Burton on entry to Oxford.
Then, as now, a dead language used only for liturgy and academic gloss. His tutoring began at age 3.
His tutoring began at age 4.
A dead language in Burton's day. Mentions private study of it, along with Arabic, in early days at Oxford.
- Aramaic (?)
Began self-teaching at Oxford ca. 1840.
- Zanzibari dialect - Wright mentions Burton upstaging another linguist (Percy Badger) in an audience with the King of Zanzibar by speaking to him in this argot.
Began study under Duncan Forbes before shipping to India, ca. 1851. Completed learning from native teachers in Bombay and Baroda. Passed the regimental exam, first of eleven candidates, on 5 May 1843.
Learned from native teachers in Baroda. Passed the regimental exam in September 1843, again coming in first among the candidates.
Passed the regimental exam on 25 October 1844. First in exam.
Began studying in November 1844. Serious study began in 1845. Passed the regimental exam 15 October 1845 - first again of thirty.
Began studying sometime in 1843. Passed the regimental exam in September 1848.
Page Updated 2008-08-21