George Campbell

Attribution: S. Fraser (Maryburgh Primary School March 2015)

Maryburgh's Multi-Multi-Linguist. Imagine! Mr Campbell speaks 44 Languages

The following article about Mr George Campbell was written on 27th July 1975:

George Campbell, a 62 year old Scot from the village of Maryburgh, near Dingwall, speaks more languages than anyone else in Britain. Including English, he speaks no less than 44. Here’s the full list:

French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Rumanian, German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Polish, Russian, Czechoslovak, Georgian, Croatian, Slavene, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Finnish, Albanian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Mongolian, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Amharic, Armenian

At the moment he is studying two American Indian languages, Quechua and Guarani.

George works for the B.B.C. in London monitoring their foreign language programmes. He says he learns languages sitting on the bus. Each day he makes the seven-mile bus trip to and from his home in South London, taking 40 minutes each trip. That’s nearly seven hours a week – ample time for George to study.

George was at Maryburgh Primary School at the same time as George Murdoch but has one regret – he has never learned Gaelic. He’s never had the time, he says.

Extract from Ross-shire Journal of 31 December 2004:

Leading linguist dies aged 92

The son of a Brahan Estate gardener who went on to become one of the world’s outstanding linguists has died at the age of 92.

George Campbell attended Maryburgh Primary and Dingwall Academy where he lapped up his lessons in German and French. With none of his teachers still alive, it is difficult to ascertain whether they were able to forecast his potential to write, as an adult, the Compendium of the World’s Languages and to become a lynchpin of the BBC World Service. It is unlikely, as George was considered something of a dunce because he suffered from a stammer – an affliction his mother always attributed to the trauma of being attacked by a dog as a toddler.

During his Ross-shire education he supplemented his lessons by studying books he bought from the Inverness fish market and he quickly added Spanish, Portugese, Danish, Swedish and Dutch to his repertoire.

When George applied to go to Edinburgh University from Dingwall Academy he discovered he would need to know Latin so he quickly learned the six-year course in one year and took the school’s Latin prize.

He completed courses at Edinburgh, Leipzig and London universities before taking a post as assistant librarian at the School of Slavonic Studies, where he became versed in Hungarian, Persian and Albanian.

When World War II broke out George’s language skills were quickly utilised by what is now called the BBC World Service. He was employed as a language supervisor and switch operator for 12 languages. His job was to see to it that the speakers did not depart from their authorised scripts and to switch them off if they did.

George continued at the BBC’s Bush House until his official retirement in 1974, although it was 1980 before he was finally allowed to call it a day after he’d helped them out as acting head of various South European sergvices – Portugese, Greek, Turkish and Spanish.

George was also a music buff and studied piano under Georg Winkler in Leipzig and played the Steinway in Studio 16 of Bush House whenever he got the chance.

In his 50s George took three years off from languages to study tensor calculus because, he said, he wanated to know what the cosmologists were talking about.

His great friend Vincent Price recalls George not, as may be supposed, a shy academic mole, but as ‘a most entertaining companion with a sly sense of humour’.

George, who lived latterly in Brighton, is survived by his wife Jen whom he married in 1939 and two sons, Malcolm and Colin.

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