Mario Pei, linguist and philosopher of language, began teaching career at City College of New York.

Born in Rome, Italy, Mario Andrew Pei (1901-1978), not unlike many Italians of the time, came with his family to New York City in 1908. Mario followed in the footsteps of his father whose extensive scholarly background naturally disposed his son to place high value on education, thereby leading to attendance at a mix of public and parochial schools including the Jesuit Xavier High School in Manhattan. He was everlastingly grateful to the Jesuits for the classical education they imparted to him. A brilliant student, by the time he graduated from high school, Mario was already fluent in five languages; subsequently he became capable of speaking thirty other languages and was acquainted with the sentence structure of more than 100 of the world's 3,000 languages. He received a bachelor's degree from City College of New York and a doctorate from Columbia University in 1937 where he learned Sanskrit, Old Church Slavonic and Old French.

In 1923, he started teaching languages at City College of New York, and in 1928, he published an English translation of Vittoria Ermete de Fiori's Mussolini: The Man of Destiny. In 1937, he joined the faculty in the Department of Romance Languages at Columbia University, and four years later he published The Italian Language. Such language proficiency was in great demand during World War II and accordingly Pei served as a language consultant to the Office of War Information and the Office of Strategic Services. In these capacities he wrote language course works and guides.

While serving as Professor of Romance Philology at Columbia University Pei wrote over 50 language books including some that became popular sellers such the critically acclaimed 1949 Book-of-the-Month selection, The Story of Language. His strength was his ability to describe the structure of languages in a quickly graspable manner commingling technical description with linguistic fascination and good amusement. Pei's 1952 publication The Story of English in which he delineated the evolution of English was equally popular. In addition, Pei worked on a series of guidebooks in various languages that received much attention. Pei's was also noted for advocating the study of a single language - Esperanto. He proposed that, in addition to their own indigenous language, all children should be taught a single language as a means of promoting universal understanding and friendship.

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