This article is about the knowledge of a language one hasn't learned. For "speaking in tongues", see Glossolalia. For the anime series, see Idolmaster: Xenoglossia.

Xenoglossy (/ˌznəˈɡlɒsi, ˌzɛ-, -n-/[1]), also written xenoglossia (/ˌznəˈɡlɒsiə, ˌzɛ-, -n-/[2][3]), sometimes also known as xenolalia, is the putative paranormal phenomenon in which a person is able to speak or write a language he or she could not have acquired by natural means. The words derive from Greek ξένος (xenos), "foreigner" and γλῶσσα (glōssa), "tongue" or "language".[4] The term xenoglossy was ostensibly coined by French parapsychologist Charles Richet. Stories of xenoglossy are found in the Bible, and contemporary claims of xenoglossy have been made by parapsychologists and reincarnation researchers such as Ian Stevenson. There is no scientific evidence that xenoglossy is an actual phenomenon.[5][6][7][8]


Stories of the miraculous abilities of certain individuals to read, write, speak, or understand a foreign language that appear in the Bible and other Christian religious literature went on to inspire similar accounts and stories during the Middle Ages.[9] Claims of mediums speaking foreign languages were made by Spiritualists in the 19th century, as well as by Pentecostals in the 20th century, but these did not hold up to scientific scrutiny. More recent claims of xenoglossy have come from reincarnation researchers who have alleged that individuals were able to recall a language spoken in a past life.[7] Some reports of xenoglossy have surfaced in the popular press, such as Czech speedway rider Matěj Kůs who in September 2007 supposedly awoke after a crash and was able to converse in perfect English; however press reports of his fluency in English were based entirely on anecdotal stories told by his Czech team-mates.[10][11]

Notable claims

Ian Stevenson

Parapsychologist and psychiatrist at the University of Virginia Ian Stevenson claimed there were a handful of cases that suggested evidence of xenoglossy. These included two where a subject under hypnosis could allegedly converse with people speaking the foreign language, instead of merely being able to recite foreign words. Sarah Thomason, a linguist at the University of Michigan, reanalysed these cases, concluding that "the linguistic evidence is too weak to provide support for the claims of xenoglossy".[6]

William J. Samarin, a linguist from the University of Toronto has written that Stevenson had chosen to correspond with linguists in a selective and unprofessional manner. He noted that Stevenson corresponded with one linguist for a period of six years "without raising any discussion about the kinds of thing that linguists would need to know." He also wrote that most of Stevenson's collaborators were "fellow believers" in the paranormal, starting with a preconceived notion.[13]

Prof. William Frawley in a review for Stevenson's Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy (1984) wrote that he was too uncritically accepting of a paranormal interpretation of the cases. In one case a female subject could only answer yes or no questions in German which Frawley found unimpressive. In another, the female subject could speak Bengali with a poor pronunciation. Frawley noted that she was raised on the language of Marathi (related to Bengali), had studied Sanskrit from which both Marathi and Bengali derive and was living in a town with thousands of Bengalis. He concluded "Stevenson does not consider enough linguistic evidence in these cases to warrant his metaphysics."[14]

The psychologist David Lester also evaluated Stevenson's cases and wrote the subjects made grammatical mistakes, mispronounced words and did not show a wide vocabulary of words in foreign language, thus they cannot be considered evidence for xenoglossy.[15]

Alfred Hulme

In the early 20th century Alfred Hulme, a self-proclaimed Egyptologist, investigated a young girl named Ivy Carter Beaumont also known as "Rosemary" from Blackpool, England who claimed to be under the influence of the personality of a Babylonian princess. Hulme was convinced she spoke in an ancient Egyptian dialect. However, according to linguist Karen Stollznow "Several scholars examined the data independently and concluded that Hulme's analyses were grossly inaccurate. Hulme had confused Middle Egyptian and Late Egyptian [...] they also found evidence that he had falsified many results."[16]

See also


  1. Cf. analogously pronounced entry xenophobic in Jones, Daniel (2003) [1917], Peter Roach, James Hartmann and Jane Setter, eds., English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 3-12-539683-2
  2. Cf. analogously pronounced entry xenophobia in Jones, Daniel (2003) [1917], Peter Roach, James Hartmann and Jane Setter, eds., English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 3-12-539683-2
  3. "xenoglossia". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House.
  4. γλῶσσα, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. Zusne, Leonard; Jones, Warren. (1989). Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 145-146. ISBN 978-0-805-80507-9
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Thomason, Sarah. "Xenoglossy". In Gordon Stein. (1996). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-021-5
  7. 1 2 Melton, J. Gordon (1 January 2007), The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena, Visible Ink Press, pp. 359–, ISBN 978-1-57859-209-8
  8. Hines, Terence. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 109. ISBN 1-57392-979-4
  9. Christine F. Cooper-Rompato (30 April 2011), The Gift of Tongues: Women's Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages, Penn State Press, ISBN 0-271-03615-X
  10. Czech speedway rider knocked out in crash wakes up speaking perfect English | the Daily Mail
  11. Crash Victim Wakes Up Speaking English
  12. Samarin, William J. (1976). Review of Ian Stevenson Xenoglossy: A Review and Report of a Case. Language 52: 270-274.
  13. Samarin, William J. (1976). Xenoglossy: A Review and Report of a Case by Ian Stevenson. Language. Vol. 52, No. 1. pp. 270-274.
  14. Frawley, William. (1985). Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy by Ian Stevenson. Language. Vol. 61, No. 3. p. 739.
  15. Lester, David. (2005). Is There Life After Death? An Examination of the Empirical Evidence. McFarland. pp. 123-131. ISBN 978-0786421169
  16. Stollznow, Karen. (2014). Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 86-86. ISBN 978-1-137-40484-8


External links

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