Xenoglossy is the alleged speaking of a language that is entirely unknown to the individual. The person has never heard the language before but still can speak it fluently as if it were his/her native language. In other words, if a person speaks an unknown language that has not been acquired by natural means then it is known as xenoglossy.

There have been a number of well documented cases in which people have been found to have xenoglossy. So far, none of them have been proved to be accurate. Its not that those were cases of fraud, but there have not been enough evidences to completely prove them. Linguists and Psycholinguists say that until and unless they have enough evidences they cannot accept the existence of xenoglossy.

Language is a system of symbols with rules for combining them, used to communicate information. Language development is the result of a complex process involving several aspects of learning, many cognitive processes, and perhaps various genetically determined mechanisms as well. Thus, speaking a language that a person has never heard of or is not at all familiar with seems to be something that is not possible.

There are a number of different views about how language is acquired. According to the linguist Noam Chomsky, language acquisition is partly innate. This view suggests that human beings are born with a language acquisition device (LAD), which is a built-in neural system that provides them with an intuitive grasp of grammar of their native language. Chomsky says that humans are prepared to acquire language and that the language acquisition device allows children to deduce the structure of their native language by mere exposure to it.

Another view suggests that there is a critical period for language acquisition. Critical periods are time frames during which environmental exposure is required to stimulate an innate trait during early childhood. According to this view, children acquire language during this critical period. Studies show that a critical period exists, but it does not mean that adults cannot learn a language perfectly.

The social learning view of language acquisition suggests that language is acquired through a combination of learning and imitation. According to this view, children are praised and rewarded by their parents and elders for making sounds that are approximate to those of their native language. Also, parents very often model sounds, words, and sentences for their children. All these together contribute to the acquisition of language.

The Relational Frame theory based on the social learning view also suggests that language is acquired purely through the interaction with the environment. It gives emphasis to the importance of predicting and influencing psychological events, such as thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, by focusing on manipulable variables in their context. Studies supporting this view suggest that children learn language through a system of inherent reinforcements.There are other views that suggest language acquisition is a cognitive process that emerges from the interaction of biological pressures and the environment. According to this both the environmental and biological aspects must work together in order to allow language acquisition. This view argues that general cognitive processes sub-serve language acquisition and that the end result of these processes is language-specific phenomena, like word learning and grammar acquisition.

Similar to this is Slobin’s view of language acquisition. According to him children posses certain information-processing abilities or strategies that they use in acquiring language. These are known as operating principles and seem to be present or to develop very early in life.

All these different views/theories of language acquisition suggest how language is acquired by children and thus may not be very apt for explaining something like xenoglossy. However, these theories also suggest that exposure to a certain language is very necessary to acquire it, which further weakens the claims of xenoglossy.

Researchers of xenoglossy say that the exhibition of the phenomenon of xenoglossy requires paranormal explanations and are beyond the usual psychological processes. So far, the explanations given for xenoglossy are reincarnation or being possessed by another soul. These explanations are themselves not very sound and are hard to believe. The phenomenon of reincarnation is a very popular area in parapsychology, but so far nothing has been proved. And being possessed by a soul sounds to be something that is quite preposterous despite its never ending claims by a number of people.

Researchers also suggest that xenoglossy might not even have an explanation. It is something like many of the other miracles that have happened throughout the existence of life. But, to accept something there has to be ample evidence for it, there has to be some kind of logic behind it, without which it may not be possible to accept the existence of xenoglossy. However, there are many things in this world that are beyond logic and beyond any possible explanations. There are a number of paranormal and supernatural phenomena that have no explanation whatsoever. Some believe in them and some do not. Xenoglossy may also be one of those.

As mentioned above, there have been well-documented cases of xenoglossy. Most of them cannot be denied, irrespective of the explanations given for them not being good enough. All this makes it is very difficult to say that whether something like xenoglossy is possible or not.

PS: To read more about Xenoglossy, refer to my article, Xenoglossy: Possible Explanations

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India


Unknown said...

i dont know much about linguistics but i definitely know that Noam Chomsky's universal grammar theory has been generally trashed and yes i agree language aquisition is a very complex process but no amount of theorizing could explain xenoglossy. Would you like to consider reincarnation as a possible explaination.A psychologist in paris uses hypnosisto regress people to their earlier incarnations and treat their psychoses.One in mumbai also uses the same method

Saif Farooqi said...

@ T-Rex
you're right when you say that Chomsky's theory has been trashed, but there have been some empirical evidences for it. the critical period hypothesis (that i mentioned in the post) is also seen as a support to Chosky's theory. and of course no amount of theorizing can explain xenoglossy and that's what i have written in my post.
i can't really say if reincarnation can be considered an explanation for xenoglossy, but researchers of xenoglossy use it as an explanation. reincarnation itself is something that is very doubtful, so using that to explain another inexplicable phenomena does not seem to be very wise.
not only in paris and mumbai, but quite a few more psychologists all over the world use hypnosis (claim to use) by taking people back into their past lives and treating them. it is called past life therapy. hypnosis is something that now a days has been termed as inaccurate and there are many doubts about the whole process. it is usually said to be made up by the therapist. but, then again people in the past have been treated by hypnosis.
as you can see, there are too many doubts about all these phenomena. they all come in the area of parapsychology and nothing much can be said about them. but, despite all that it is quite interesting to read about and have discussions on it. i feel that there is very little information about xenoglossy and that a lot more research needs to be done before coming up with a proper explanation for xenoglossy.

I am the light within said...

nice piec eof work..
like pearls scattered for the readers to catch n treasure

akd said...

nice blog...well written

I didn't know that language skill is genetic. But complexity in those skill is not a big issue. Because human being is a complex organism and for every small thing, thousands of chemical reaction occur with absolute accuracy.

Hence Xenoglossy is another phenomenon like some people have in born quality in drawing, writing, coding, etc.

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Neha (I am the light within)
Thanks a lot for the wonderful comment ... that's a great compliment, i really appreciate it :) ... keep visiting :)

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Asit
No, that's absolutely incorrect. you probably did not at all understand the concept of xenoglossy. firstly, there's a lot of difference between language skill and language acquisition. it seems that you got confused between the two concepts. yeah, having language skills may not be a such big deal, but xenoglossy is in no way a skill, ability, or quality. its a paranormal phenomenon and it definitely cannot be said to be the same as the other skills that you have mentioned.
language itself is something that's very complex so acquiring language makes it a lot more complex than many of the other in-born skills that you're talking about. now coming back to xenoglossy. acquiring, learning, and speaking a language requires some kind of exposure to that particular language. but, that's not the case when it comes to xenoglossy. xenoglossy is something that is extremely rare. it has not even been proved. xenoglossy is speaking a language (fluently) that is completely unheard by the person. he/she has had no kind of exposure to that language at all. it occurs suddenly out of no where.(did you get the difference?) so, xenoglossy is in no way like any of the other in-born human abilities. it is a paranormal phenomenon. you should read the post once again to understand it properly.

Anonymous said...

I dont think you have given an example of any particular case where something like this has happened. Or maybe I missed it.
Since, you have already mentioned that there have been well documented cases, I would really like to read about one or two of those cases.
By the way, very informative stuff youve got here, before reading this i knew nothing about something like xenoglossy

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Tariq
yeah, i didn't give any example of such incidents. i thought to do so, but then i thought that merely mentioning them would not do justice to the complexity of the issue. such cases are filled with a lot of intricacies and giving a detailed account of them with an analysis would have further made it complicated, especially for readers who have had no or very little exposure to psychology and parapsychology, ... it would have also increased the length of the post to quite an extent. so, in the end i decided not to mention any of the cases.
well, there have been a couple of cases in India, one in Germany, one in Scotland, one in Africa ... these are the ones that come immediately to my mind.
if you're really interested to read about cases of xenoglossy then you can look for them on the internet, you'll definitely find some of them.
... and yes, xenoglossy is something that very few people know about and this is one of the reasons that i thought of writing an article on it.

aditya said...

Though I'm least interested in such things but this was pretty informative. Neat blog as well. Keep up the good work .. :)

Aparna (Life Takes) said...

imformative blog!

XENOGLOSSY is a case
reincarnation is also involved...but i dont believe in it

Saif Farooqi said...

@ gynophile
nice to know that despite not being of your interest you still found it informative.

@ Aparna
yeah, xenoglossy is that kind of phenomenon that many people will have their doubts about it, so i'm not surprised that you don't believe in it ... i myself do not completely believe in it, but i also do not completely disbelieve it ...

qeelz said...

nice blog..i like to read =D

Anonymous said...

My husband witnessed his friend starting to speak French during a regression therapy session with her psychiatrist. (Long story.) She has never spoken any other language than English, but her whole presence changed and she appeared to be smoking a cigarette while speaking. The only thing that remains a question is that neither the psychiatrist or my husband spoke French, so they couldn't possibly tell if it was accurate or not. Whether it was or not, it must have been interesting.

It is easy for me to accept as a possiblity, as I am a firm believer of reincarnation. Again, the operative word here is "a believer".

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Sebastyne
That sounds really interesting. good to know someone who has had such a close experience with xenoglossy (even if its an indirect one). one day i would definitely love to hear a lot more about this incident from you.

Like this case, some of the other ones that i have read, the psychiatrist or researcher and others who have been a witness to such an incident do not really understand the language spoken by the other person and this makes it very difficult to find out about its accuracy.

i'm not going to question your belief in reincarnation. there are many people who believe in it and there are many who don't. you believe in it and you obviously might be having your own reasons in doing so.

i've been gathering a lot more information about xenoglossy and some day i might write another post on it.

Mike said...

Until this moment I'd never heard of xenoglossy. 3 years ago I was lying in a hospital bed after suffering a heart attack. It was in the middle of the night when an elderly patient was wheeled in. The nurses put him in the bed next to me. At the time the man was talking fairly loudly. I cannot speak a foreign language myself but could certainly recognise one if I heard it ie French,Italian,Spanish, Italian,German etc. I have never heard anyone speak that language in my life either before or since.
The next morning when they were bringing the breakfasts round,I was amazed to hear him speaking English in a broad black country accent eg,Walsall,Tipton,Willenhall,Wednesbury etc. There was absolutely no evidence of any foreign language at all.I listened intently throughout the day.I asked a nurse about it and she said "Yes, it's happened before on a few occasions" but she couldn't explain it!

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Mike
That's quite an interesting experience. This shows that xenoglossy may well be a realistic phenomenon. It may be difficult to explain, but when people like you have witnessed it, then it becomes hard to completely disregard it. Thanks for sharing your experience.
I have written another post on xenoglossy in which I have tried give explanations of it. Perhaps you might be interested in it. Here's the link: http://lifepsychologyandalotmore.blogspot.com/2010/08/xenoglossy-possible-explanations.html

Anonymous said...

Really interesting stuff, I love the way you write :)

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Anonymous
Thanks a lot! :)

Loner said...

So you are coming to the point that, there is a scientific explanation to it..