Linguistic Intelligence

In 1983 Howard Gardner put forward his theory of multiple intelligences which sent shock waves through the educational system in the 1980s and 1990s. The repercussions of Gardner’s theory are still being felt today. What was this theory? In short, Howard Gardner believed that there was more to an individual’s intelligence than one single ability or skill. In his Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences he put forward several different types of intelligence. He refined his ideas over the years concluding that there are seven forms of intelligence.

These include:

An individual with heightened bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence might be well coordinated, have a keen sense of balance, be strong, flexible and sporty. People with high bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence may become sports-people, dancers, actors, doctors or soldiers.

Someone who has interpersonal intelligence is typically able to interpret other people’s moods and intentions, they are sensitive to other people and are often natural leaders, successful speakers, sales people, managers and teachers.

Intrapersonal intelligence is marked by introspection. Individuals with this types of intelligence are self-reflective and are able to understand their own emotions, desires and limitations. Such people make good philosophers, psychologists, and scientists.

Logical-mathematical intelligence, as the name suggests, can be defined as the ability to understand numbers and logical concepts, be able to reason, and think abstractly. Mathematicians, scientists, economists and programmers fall into this category.

Individuals who possess musical intelligence can understand and express musical forms, they are sensitive to rhythm and have a keen sense of hearing. Those with musical intelligence may be most suited to careers as musicians, singers, DJs, composers and even writers.

People who have heightened spatial intelligence are extremely sensitive to shapes and colours and are able to easily visualise objects. People gifted with spatial intelligence often make good architects, artists, map-makers and engineers.

Last but not least comes linguistic intelligence; a key factor, one would think, for linguists, translators and language specialists. Interestingly, actors, lawyers, philosophers, teachers and politicians are also thought to have this form of intelligence in abundance. People with linguistic intelligence are often said to notice grammatical mistakes, they enjoy word games, puns, learning foreign languages and often have large collections of books.

Is this really the case? Do all linguists and translators share a common level of linguistic intelligence? Is there a level of linguistic intelligence above which one will always be regarded as linguistically skilled? Must one posses this level to become a linguist and/or translators? More importantly, can the other intelligences be important to the work of a translator?


Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

38 thoughts on “Linguistic Intelligence

  1. I play guitar, have recorded several albums, etc.
    Prints of my photographs and paintings have been published and are hanging on walls all over the US.
    I write computer programs for fun.
    But, I also speak 4 languages, work as a translator and interpreter, and am a published poet.
    I’ve worked as a teacher, a waiter, a house painter, and an interpreter.
    How could I pick just one?
    I think most of us develop strengths in various areas, combinations of these so-called “intelligences”.
    I would suggest, for instance, that those of us who work as interpreters must have both, linguistic AND interpersonal intelligence, as well as, possibly, what here is referred to as “musical” intelligence.
    Translators are often specialized in one or more areas, such as engineering/technical, computer software/hardware localization, legal/patents/contracts, finance and business.
    Each of these specializations would indicate a mixture of “intelligences”, clearly.
    Most computer programmers I know also enjoy playing an instrument, or are avid readers, etc. A highly intellectual lot, they are.
    I think it would go without saying, of course, that linguists, translators, interpreters, indeed all language professionals, must have some degree beyond the norm in “linguistic intelligence”.

  2. Interesting survey; I believe that ‘linguistic intelligence’ is a key factor in order to be able to translate in many and different language pairs.

  3. Really interesting.. to answer the question in the poll, my top intelligences are intrapersonal, logical-mathematical and linguistic (not ordered in any way).

    I noticed I tend to just float in pondering on my existence, my behaviour and my thoughts. I always loved numbers, counting, and creating equations whenever possible. And last but not least, I was always fascinated with languages, as foreign-sounding as possible (love listening to them).

    As far as being a translator is concerned, I believe it takes a couple of intelligences to become a good translator. The most important reason for that is that you need to specialise in one field, at least (then, you need to combine your writing/speaking skills with some other ones).

    More precisely, for instance, musical and interpersonal intelligences are certainly useful in being a good interpreter. Moreover, if you have a combination of musical and spatial intelligence, you will be an excellent interpreter – listening to a speaker and immediately remembering what they’ve said, visualising the message and successfully interpreting it into a foreign language (remember Daniel Tammett, a savant who automatically visualise strings of numbers as landscapes?).

    To recap, I dare say most translators/interpreters do have multiple intelligences, which makes it such a fascinating profession and its practitioners such talented people. Good for you!

    PS. Tony, I am amazed!

    1. Daniel Tammet is an extremely interesting case, especially his ‘experiment’ of learning to speak fluent Icelandic in a week. Kim Peek (the original ‘Rain Main’) is also very intriguing with his mega-savant ability to devour knowledge.

  4. Linguistic intelligence defines me really well,especially the large collection of books part. I’m tempted to say that we probably have all of those intelligence at different levels along with a predominant one.

  5. Hello everybody.

    I would like to add as well my one cent to the issue of intelligence.
    To my mind a translator should be in a way a sort of hybrid which combines all types of intelligence. Even though the linguistic one is the most significant one (as the poll shows), we should not forget about others. All of them has considerable impact on the text we translate i.e. logical-mathematical intelligence helps us to transfer technician documents, in which important is to reflect precisely the content, facts etc., not an atmosphere of an original text. This intelligence as if supports us in understanding the main concept of the text. If the document requires appropriate atmosphere (e.g. literary texts) we use our spatial intelligence.

    When it comes to the interpreter as PaweƂ Besser mentioned interpersonal, spatial and musical are according to me as well the key forms of intelligence that take part in oral translations. What I would like to add is a bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence due to the fact that an interpreter sometimes needs his/her body (gestures mimics etc.) to transfer vital information. Body language is essential part of communication and we cannot forget about it.

    In a nutshell an unshakeable fact is that a translator is person who supposes to possess a wide range of different intelligence.

    1. Very true. The point is, however, is it possible to isolate several as being MOST important? It is easy to say that a translator/interpreter should be good at everything but what trainees really need to know is what should they focus on.

  6. Even linguistic is the most important, we cannot isolate one from the other.

    I believe a trainee should choose the path of his future whether he/she wants to be a translator or interpreter. If he or she is decided, one should take into account that a translator needs(according to me)ligustic, spatial and logical-mathematical intelligence.
    When it comes to interpreter as I said bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, interpersonal and spatial intelligence are important.

  7. Pingback: Merlin: Translation News, Services & Directory » Blog Archive » Another (Systemic) Perspective
  8. Interestingly, I believe that as a sign language interpreter, I require linguistic and spatial intelligence, and a bit of all the others, too. Spatial intelligence comes into play because I need to be able to drop the linear form of spoken language and express the concepts in a visual language which requires use of space, visualization, and movement. When interpreting from sign language back to the spoken word, I need to be able to process all of that movement, space and visual information into something more linear.

  9. This text made it crystal clear that if I stick to the Gardner’s types of intelligence it’ll be obvious that I’m rather a linguistic type. I look around and see loads of books. However, it doesn’t mean I’m a total book-worm. I like reading books, but it’s not the only thing I do. Sometimes I teach, write a story, try to sing or draw.

    But back to the question whether linguistic type of intelligence is the only one important for translators/interpretors, I think not. Intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence helps to understand what needs to be translated/interpreted. Musical intelligence helps while opera or musical translation. Moreover, without a bit of musical intelligence we wouldn’t be able to reproduce completely foreign sounds or accent.

  10. Those multiple intelligences simply seem to be skills. Defining them as types of intelligence causes that every person may feel intelligent in one or more fields. Thus the definition of intelligence is spread into fields instead of covering many abilities at the same time. In consequence, less requirements need to be met in order to make one intelligent. It is an excellent way to motivate and improve self esteem.
    As far as linguistic intelligence is considered, it certainly helps translators and people who learn languages, however, it is not required. If one is not extremely talented but conscientious, they may achieve the same level of the apprehension of the particular language as someone with linguistic skills; they only need to be meticulous and systematic. Also logical intelligence seems to be helpful in translation as this process requires analytic thinking so that the meaning and the organization of a text are preserved.
    I believe that I have linguistic intelligence, however, I know that it is not enough to become a translator because this profession requires both practice and experience.

    1. Well, this division enables more people to feel intelligent, for as I remember IQ test tests mostly Gardner’s logical intelligence. If linguistic intelligence was enough to be a translator we’d face a whole bunch of slightly qualified would-be-translators. Understanding is not enough.

  11. Linguistic intelligence is not the only one which characterizes a good translator/interpretor, off course. In this department, we need also interpersonal intelligence to sense what expect readers/receivers of our translations; since translators should be always critical towards himself/herself, intrapersonal intelligence would be helpful as well. And, as one of us have just mentioned it above, we need musical intelligence to sound nicely, and to ‘feel’ the rhythm of the text if there is such. Other types of intelligence neither would hamber our development in this field. Yes, a good translator is a multi-intelligent creature.

  12. Personally I believe that there is some dominant piece of intelligence in every human being, however sometimes it is difficult to determine it. Unfortunately, such lack of knowledge about yourself might lead to a real disaster, e.g. chosing studies that after some time appear to be the worst choice ever done. One might be surprised and ask, why anybody would choose studies which do not interest them. Believe me, many people make such mistakes, due to unprecised aims and undiscovered type of intelligence.
    I agree that traslators should have more than just linguistic intelligence, but I am convinced that this one is the most important indeed. I think that, in addition to linguistic, interpersonal intelligence could also play a crucial role in successful interpreting.

  13. I think it is not suprising that actors and lawyers also has high linguistic intelligence, they also work with language. Actors give langugae different meaning, while putting emphasis on different words. Lawyers often use word play.
    I cannot put myself only in one of the group. I think I’m the combination of lingiustic and spatial itelligence.
    I enjoy reading this text.

  14. Well, I also find it hard to pick just one type of intelligence that would characterise me. I think that I have logical-mathematical, intrapersonal, and linguistic intelligence; nevertheless, I see in myself other traits that are attributed by Gardner to other types. Unfortunately, what I lack, to my personal disappointment, is musical intelligence which I blame for difficulties with attaining perfection in English pronunciation.

    I do agree with those who state that multiple intelligence is very helpful to be a good translator. Many skills can be learnt by hard work and practise; however, inborn talents plus work should help to achieve excellence.

  15. The whole article forced me to think about myself, about my own type of intelligence. And still, I’m not fully convinced which one suits the best. But if it comes to linguistic intelligence in case of translators, I think they all should have it, and all good translators have it, for sure. However, to reach the highest level of translation skills, one should also put much effort, work very hard. To sum up, linguistic intelligence plus working really hard must result in perfect translator/ linguist 😉

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