The many tongues of Prince Philip

The many tongues of Prince Philip


norman lebrecht

April 25, 2021

His fluency in French and (especially) his idiomatic German was pretty much a state secret.

Now all can be seen and heard.




  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    His talents were wasted.

    • Una says:

      I don’t think so, Jan. He had so many outstanding talents, even designing his own spectacular hearse! His biggest talent of course was his Duke of Edinburgh awards for young people, hich many far flung countries, woth no attachment to. Britain, have tried to. mimic rather poorly. Just amazing. Anyone speak a foreign language if they really want. Even Boris speaks about five very well, and three fluently. But His Royal Highness, Prince Philip’s talents were never wasted and leave a huge legacy for tgevwehole of the British Isles, and the Commonwealth.

  • Ulrich Brass says:

    Anglosaxon people are always shocked when someone can speak 3 languages.

    • Maria says:

      No! We’re not shocked in England. We have the basic language of the world along with Australians, Americans and a whole host of huge countries and continents! And in any case, the UK is not all Anglo-Saxon either. It is. only England. Most Scottish, Welsh and Irish, and Cornwall, who are Celtic, not Anglo Saxon, are bi-lingual with their own form of Gaelic. The Scots are also very good at speaking idiomatic French – look at history! French vowel sounds are also reflected in the way they speak English.

      • Anon says:

        Err… No. Welsh is the most common and is very much a minority language. Scottish Gaelic has a tiny speaking community. Irish Gaelic is reasonably widespread in rural parts, mainly of the Irish republic. Cornish is a dead language.

  • Tom Hase says:

    I mean, German was literally his mother tongue, his mother being Princess Alice of Battenberg. Of course, it is possible to lose your mother tongue over time, but it is hardly exceptional, that expats remain fluent in their mother tongue. That his German heritage – as well as the German heritage of the whole British monarchy – was politically inconvenient after WW II and that is was thus not appropriate for him to talk publicly in German, is of course a different story. What makes this story timely, however, is probably less the death of an overprivileged German nobleman, bur rather the way in which the English upper class cultivates anti-German stereotypes to this very day in order to manipulate the working class to go against its own interests.

    • CJ says:

      His mother tongue was in fact English, he “spoke” English with his mother, who was born at Windsor Castle, being a great granddaughter of Queen Victoria. (I used the inverted comas because she was deaf, but she could lipread in several languages).
      He might have had several (royal) origins in his blood, but for me he was the epitome of the English gentleman, including the sense of humour and the bushy eyebrows.
      He was also very elegant, always impeccably and adequately dressed.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Did he speak any Greek?

  • EMRLA says:

    I wonder if he spoke Greek in addition to his other languages?

    • david hilton says:

      Unlikely. His Greek father, Prince Andrew, and other relatives on his father’s side, were all Danish speakers who had been invited to rule in Greece. And he was separated from his father at an early age. Philip is more likely to have spoken Russian from time spent with his Russian grandmother. He was a close relative to Czar Nicholas and Czarina Alexandra. Indeed, he was the closest living relative whose DNA could be tested and compared to the remains discovered in the early 1990’s, thought to be those of the murdered imperial family. Philip’s DNA confirmed that they were in fact those of the Czar and his family. It’s remarkable that his Russian history is barely mentioned as well.

  • Jonathan B says:

    I would imagine he spoke pretty good Greek too ….

  • William Evans says:

    A true ‘Renaissance Man’ (with interests in design, wildlife conservation, painting, polo, carriage-driving, the military, etc., etc.) who, ‘though never suffering fools, wore his own multiple skills lightly.

  • M McAlpine says:

    We Anglo-Saxons think it extra-ordinary when people are multi-lingual. My wife actually speaks three languages which is unusual. But I have friends in India, for example, who think nothing of speaking five of the 30-odd languages of the nation.

  • Dan oren says:

    His French was ok, but nothing exceptional. I am much more impressed by his german, pronunciation, intonation, fluidity

  • M. L. Liu says:

    Someone asked”Did he speak any Greek?”
    “If anything, I’ve thought of myself as Scandinavian. Particularly, Danish. We spoke English at home,” Philip was quoted as saying in a 2014 profile in The Independent. ‘The others learned Greek. I could understand a certain amount of it. But then the [conversation] would go into French. Then it went into German, on occasion, because we had German cousins. If you couldn’t think of a word in one language, you tended to go off in another.’ ” Source:

  • M. L. Liu says:

    Jan Kaznowski wrote: “His talents were wasted.”

    As one who grew up in British Hong Kong, I had always thought of Prince Philip as a figurehead seen in stuffy photos of the British monarch.

    But I was impressed by his funeral proceedings — including the music selections — said to have been designed by the Duke himself. Further investigation turned up portraits of a multi-faceted man who — had he chosen a different path in life — could easily have become a top military brass or major corporate CEO.

    Prince Philip lived life to the fullest and made a mark with the many causes and programs that he championed. His talents were not wasted.

    BTW one of his legacies turns out to be his fashion style especially in his younger days. Countess articles on the subject have turned up (New York Times, CNN, GQ Magazine, Esquire …) Photos of young Philip have reportedly gone viral on TikTok, admired by young ones who only knew him as a grandfather figure.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Idiomatic German is an overstatement. Fluent yes, with a fine, perfectly understandable accent. Same with French.

  • Gustavo says:

    What I find shocking is that political decision makers were not really listening to what Prince Philip had to say about global environmental change.

    What the woke green movement is now preaching is nothing really new but is still being viewed with scepticism.

    Industrial lobbyists are either actively opposing or shamelessly exploiting the green agenda.

    I am also seriously doubting whether any political party worldwide has been seriously listening to what some wise men were saying years ago.

    At least not in Germany since the early 1960ies.

    Germany’s green party has obviously failed – so far!

    Need proof?

    Read this!