Hyper-Polyglot Resides at Kendal

Herbert Reading

Herbert Reading

Herbert L. has, what you might call, a fascination with languages.  He reads and understands twenty-six languages, most of them self-taught. This amazing feat began in 1931 and continues today, 80 years later. This “sport,” as Herb refers to it, helps him maintain one of the most vital parts of the body…the brain.  He is a true Hyper-polyglot (a person, who can speak or write in many languages).

Herbert grew up in Dexter, New York, where he lived with his parents and his maternal grandfather. Dexter was a paper mill town that drew immigrants from Poland and Hungary, all of whom spoke their native languages.  In addition, Herb’s grandfather had a middle class English accent. It was his grandfather and his young friends, who were the first influences that piqued his interest in languages. His mother was a significant force in encouraging him to pursue his curiosity, and Herb’s father also played an influencing role since he was tri-lingual.  As a Canadian, his father spoke English and French, and growing up on an Indian reservation, he learned Mohawk.

In high school, it was a dedicated Latin and French teacher, who introduced Herb to the wonderful world of the spoken and written communication of language. This was the beginning of a life-long love affair, and once a student at Hamilton College, he enrolled in every available language class. Herb also spent two sabbatical years as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he did research for his publications, and met his wife, Charlotte.

Herb has always been fascinated with grammar and syntax (sentence structure). This is why he loved the Greek language, with all its complexity. As a natural extension of this passion for language, Herb spent his career at Hamilton College, as the Norton Professor of Classical Studies and then at Case Western Reserve University as Professor of Classical Languages. He and his wife, Charlotte, spent a year in Athens, Greece, where he was a visiting professor at the American School of Classical Studies. Some of his most serious work was done for the Oxford Press for their series of Classical authors.  Over ten years he edited the compilation, as a manuscript, of the works of Diogenes Laertius, a biographer of Greek philosophers. Herb was honored for this scholarly work. 

After retirement, Herb served as Adjunct Professor at CWRU. To his delight, retirement brought time for more intensive study and research of languages. It was on a trip to Jerusalem that Herb happened upon a book to self-teach Norwegian. This find helped him to open yet another door to a life-long learning of languages. Living at Kendal since 1993, he has spent many hours in the Kendal library, his home away from home. His best resource, in studying a new language, is the Bible, which has been published in 600 different languages. He has studied many languages since living at Kendal, but Icelandic, Navaho and Tibetan stand out, with Tibetan being the most difficult.

Over the years, as Herb has been challenged with significant hearing loss, it has not deterred or impaired his ability to enjoy his passion for languages. The use of his personal computer diminishes any barriers, allowing him access to a world of information at his fingertips. Herb continues to research, learn and hear clearly, in his mind, the sounds of these many languages. A very modest, extremely accomplished hyper-polyglot, that’s Herbert.