Tarzan the Linguist?


Although movie mythology popularized a Tarzan of the “me Tarzan you Jane” linguistic type, the Tarzan of the novels was a gifted linguist who learned many languages over the course of his lifetime. (And indeed, some of the more recent movie Tarzans are more linguistically evolved than the early ones.) The Language Journal has offered a nice look at Tarzan the linguist on the occasion of his 100th anniversary.

Tarzan, Ape-Man and Linguist

One hundred years ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel about a feral child who was raised by great apes somewhere in the African jungles was published in a magazine. The novel was called Tarzan of the Apes. It was about Tarzan’s adventures in the jungle and his encounters with both humans and animals. In 1914, Burroughs’ novel was finally published in book form. Today, there are hundreds of works based on Burroughs’ character Tarzan in different media. Tarzan of the Apes has spawned several comic books, movies, television shows and even a stage play.

The heroic adventurer celebrates his 100th birthday this year. There hasn’t been much interest in Tarzan lately because there are no new movies or television shows about Burroughs’ ape-man. The last Tarzan movie that enjoyed worldwide release was an animated Disney movie back in 1999. One of the closest adaptations of Tarzan of the Apes was the 1984 film Greystoke The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes. The best way to learn more about Tarzan is through Burroughs’ novels. Here’s a sneak peak into the fictional character Tarzan and the man who created him.

Read the rest at The Language Journal.


  • I was thinking the same thing. That should have been the cornerstone of the article — it needs: “Tarzan’s unique language aptitude manifested itself in early childhood when, speaking only the language of the Mangani, he found children’s books in the cabin where his parents died and from them learned to read, and to a limited extent, write English.” . . . .

  • Great article, but they don’t point to Tarzan’s greatest accomplishment: learning written english all by himself! D’Arnot only taught him how to speak english.

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