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Russian anthropologist Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay spent 15 months in what is now Madang, Papua New Guinea, among speakers of Bongu. None of them had had any kind of exposure to any of the Old World languages before they met Miklouho-Maclay. He ended up having some limited command of Bongu, enough to get by in everyday life, but not having mastered the grammar ...


I recently learned about William Buckley on the Futility Closet podcast. Buckley was an English escaped convict who lived with Indigenous Australians for decades. He learned the language of the people with whom he lived, and as far as I know neither of the parties knew each other's language beforehand.


I bet historically that was not an uncommon occurrence up to the early 20th century. Nakahama Manjirō springs to mind, who was shipwrecked off the coast of Japan and then immersed himself in the United States (though he was 14 so barely meets your criteria). A key factor that spurred his situation, in addition to Japan being an island country, is that it was ...


Do linguistic field workers count? In this case I offer the case of Daniel Everett who learned the Pirahã language from scratch by contact with the native people without having any common language. Of course, Everett had some preparation and training in doing field work, he wasn't completely naive in this respect.

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