Languages Jefferson Spoke or Read

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Speaking


Jefferson himself said in his Notes of a Tour through Holland and the Rhine Valley, "...there was not a person to be found in Duysberg who could understand either English, French, Italian or Latin. So I could make no enquiry." Papers 13:13

And later in his Hints to Americans Travelling in Europe, "I could find no body in the village however who could speak any language I spoke, and could not make them understand what I wished to see." Papers 13:264


Reading

Jefferson said in an April 12, 1817 letter to Joseph Delaplaine, "I was educated at William and Mary college in Williamsburg. I read Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and English of course, with something of it’s radix the Anglo-Saxon." In addition to the languages he lists, there is some evidence that Jefferson was attempting German (see Kimball).

Jefferson had dictionaries, vocabularies, and grammars in a number of other languages in his library. These included Arabic, Gaelic, and Welsh, amongst others. However, without confirmation from TJ himself, the most we can assume is that he was "dabbling" in these languages, and never acheived a notable degree of fluency.


References

Gilreath, James, and Douglas L. Wilson (eds). Thomas Jefferson's Library: A Catalog With the Entries in His Own Order. Washington: Library of Congress, 1989. See Critism. Languages: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/becites/main/jefferson/88607928_ch43.html. Jefferson Library Information File: EDUCATION - Foreign Languages.
Kimball, Marie. Jefferson: The Road to Glory, 1743 to 1776. New York: Coward-McCann, 1943. Pp. 106-109. Randall, Henry S. The Life of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1858. Pp. 24-25.