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Xenoglossy (/ˌznəˈɡlɒsi, ˌzɛ-, -n-/),[1] also written xenoglossia (/ˌznəˈɡlɒsiə, ˌzɛ-, -n-/)[2][3] and sometimes also known as xenolalia, is the supposedly paranormal phenomenon in which a person is able to speak or write a language they 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 in 1905. 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]

History

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 teammates.[10]

Notable claims

Ian Stevenson

Canadian 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, reanalyzed 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 "

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 teammates.[10]

Notable claims

Ian Stevenson

Canadian 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, reanalyzed these cases, concluding that "the linguistic evidence is too weak to provide support for the claims of xenoglossy".[6]