I believe the answer comes from two sources.
The first part...
- Classical languages of one’s own culture.
- Major living languages of one’s broader culture.
- The international language.
- Exotic languages.
...comes from that 2005 post that you mentioned. The full text is here:
I have gotten into trouble for this before, so let me begin by
clarifying that when I say an educated person 'should' know half a
dozen languages, I mean this 'should' as an attainable goal to be
striven for, not as a criterion for judgment that anyone who does not
know this many is not well-educated. Since contemporary culture does
not hold up this goal, individual products of its educational systems
are hardly to blame if they have not attained it. Also, I certainly do
not believe that linguistic knowledge is the only measure of a good
education;there are many other things I believe a well-educated person
'should' know, but since this is a forum about languages, I only
discuss this here. I do believe that for self-motivated lovers of
languages, this is an attainable goal that should be striven for, and
I have several distinctly different reasons for this belief:
Ample anthropological evidence that it is normal for normal individuals from truly multilingual societies such as parts of Africa
and India to know half a dozen languages. Obvious thus it is in the
standard capacity of the human mind to know and use this many
languages if the environment is right, and I think that concentrated
intelligence and diligence should be able to match the quality of
early childhood immersion.
Ample textual evidence that this goal was attained in the not-so-distant past. Look at any scholarly tome from the 19th century
and you will see that no translations are provided for quotations from
other languages; if the book is written in English, translations will
certainly be provided for Chinese or Sanskrit or Persian or Arabic,
but NOT for Latin or Greek or French or German or Spanish or Italian.
Obviously it was a reasonable and justified assumption that anyone who
would read such a book would be able to read these languages. There is
a common belief that the explosion of knowledge in our era has forced
us to become specialists while these old fellows had the leisure to
spend time on languages because there was so little breadth in their
fields. I used to believe this myself, but it is simply not true. The
range, the breadth, the depth, the quality, and the quantity of 19th
century scholarship measured against the output of contemporary
scholars in the same field is incomparably greater. Obviously,
linguistic range facilitated flexibility of mind while its absence
narrows it. At any rate, if our great-grandfathers could do this, why
Ample linguistic evidence that half a dozen languages is a boundary mark. For those who have not reached it, the study of foreign
languages is generally a hard task in which success is always
uncertain, while for those who have reached it, the acquisition of
further languages is no longer difficult. Given that languages are the
fundamental element in human thought and communication, In the course
of a lifetime, an awakened mind may well wish to acquire a new one,
and so knowledge of this many is the fundamental base that one should
have in order to assure the ability to acquire others at will.
Ample sociological and demographic evidence that the languages of the world are in great and grave danger of extinction now that the era
of global languages has arrived. From the standpoint of communication
this may well be a good thing, but from the standpoint of cultural
preservation, it is a disaster. The only way to prevent the literary
and cultural legacies of the past from being lost is to encourage the
study of the languages that are their vehicles. If the general
expectation that educated individuals should know this many languages
can somehow, ideally, be established, then I think there is some hope
for cultural preservation, even if the world of the future speaks only
I really like your idea of what your 7 languages should be, taking one
language from many different civilizations. This is a true ideal, one
that I am consciously trying to provide for my sons, born of a Western
father and an Eastern mother, by moving to and raising them in Arabia,
with plans to move to India within a decade. However, most human
beings are infinitely more culture bound, and when it comes to
learning languages, culture is a critical factor. For a European,
learning other familiar European tongues is one thing, while mastering
exotic tongues is geometrically more difficult and consequently time
consuming. The kind of range you suggest is probably attainable only
for those such as members of this forum whose major focus is on
languages, and I did mean my 'should' to refer to all educated
individuals, whatever their fields of interest or concentration.
I do not believe there is any particular half a dozen formulaic
languages that can be prescribed for all people because the issue is
so culture bound. In general, I think that well-educated individuals
in my ideal world should know a) the classical language(s) of their
own civilization, b) the major living languages of their broader
culture, c) the international language (English) if this is not one of
these or a semi-exotic if it is, and d) one exotic language of their
own choosing. **For example:
A well-educated Westerner 'should' know: a) Latin & Greek, b) English
& French, Spanish or German, c) Russian, and d) Persian or Arabic or
Sanskrit or Hindi or Chinese or...
A well-educated Middle-Easterner 'should' know: a) Arabic, b) Persian,
Turkish, & Hebrew, c) English & French, and d) Latin or Urdu or
A well-educated Indian 'should' know: a) Sanskrit & Persian or Arabic,
b) Hindi/Urdu & Bengali, Marathi or Gujarati or..., c) English, and d)
Italian or Korean or Swahili or...
A well-educated Easterner 'should' know: a) Classical Chinese, b)
Mandarin, Japanese, & Korean, c) English, and d) Greek or Pali or
And so on.
At the bottom of his post is the original list. Reddit or other people may have paraphrased later on, but Arguelles provides the substance. More likely, the blog post below (from TheLinguistBlogger) is the source of the paraphrasing.
As for the second quote...
The first category gives us insight into our past, our present and
possibly even our future. The second category helps us to understand
the cultures that surround us or that are close to us. The third
category puts us in touch with the world at large. The fourth category
broadens us and challenges us to look at the world in a very different
...as far as I can tell, it comes from this blog post back in 2008. The complete section is:
I like this list because each category serves a purpose. The first
category gives us insight into our past, our present and possibly even
our future. The second category helps us to understand the cultures
that surround us or that are close to us. The third category puts us
in touch with the world at large. The fourth category broadens us and
challenges us to look at the world in a very different way.
Proficiency in six languages from these categories would make one
cultured, worldly wise and probably very well read, not to mention
By categorizing, instead of static listing, we are free to choose the
languages that interest us while making sure that we learn useful
languages at the same time. Since each category can be filed by a
single language, the challenge to know six languages allows for more
than one language in one or two categories. Never becoming competent
in six languages or learning more than six is probably just fine in
the end but, nonetheless, I think that knowing six languages in these
four categories is a noble goal to strive for. If you were to learn
six languages from these four categories what would they be?
The substance was provided by Alexander Aguelles, and the paraphrasing was provided by TheLinguistBlogger.