Thursday, 13 October 2011


In yesterday's post about 'speaking-in-tongues', I mentioned another more interesting and more testable speech phenomenon.  This is where people seem to be able to speak a real foreign language that they could not possibly have come into contact with.  Sometimes you hear anecdotes about people who have had a stroke and although they have lost their native language they seem to have switched to another language entirely.

Does it really happen?  If it does it would be truly remarkable.  You would expect the evidence to be cut-and-dried.

Sadly, the internet is not exactly awash with provable or convincing cases and the lack of good evidence does seem to suggest that xenoglossia is another case of 'the story teller's art'.  The same few stories are repeated frequently on multiple sites.

There are tales of American lady being hypnotised and then speaking as a young German girl, of a Japanese housewife who speaks perfect Nepali, various people in India who could suddenly speak another language  and a girl who speaks an ancient Egyptian dialect (which is obviously not easily falsifiable).  A high proportion of the accounts that I have found seem to have at least a tenuous link to the psychic community and therefore are not to be trusted at all.

Even some of the more credulous sites resort to this sort of statement:

Many findings of xenoglossy are still suspect since most documented incidents have proven to be false. The "unknown learned foreign" language proved to be nothing more than forgotten phrases discovered in the subconscious, or pseudo- languages which were pure gibberish. In fewer cases the phenomenon appeared to be telepathy results between two people such as a hypnotist and a subject.

Ah - so it was telepathy all along then?  That makes it much more credible!

Some of the cases often reported are examples of 'proof by Daily Mail' (a UK newspaper with a bit of a reputation for sensational stories that appear to be true, but might not be).  In the particular case linked here, The Mail neglects to mention that the man lost his ability before it could be tested by anyone who could independently confirm the claims.

Sadly, my skepticism is undented by what I have read.  That's a pity.


Anonymous said...

Ah, I'll come back and comment on your posts about this...too late and too tired to do so now...the Greek for this word is interesting actually... and it does have its counterpart in the Old Testament. I did a study on this whole area many years ago :)

Marg said...

Hey, I thought you might be interested in my research (I use the word loosely) and personal experience with xenoglossia.