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Xenoglossy (Is It Really Possible to Speak a Language You’ve Never Been Exposed to or Taught?)--Pt.1

It cannot be true. A person fluent in English, for example, suddenly is a fluent speaker of German. In some cases, this person no longer can speak his or her native tongue, English! There has to be other explanations for this and fraud must be a part of the analysis… right? Experts have studied similar cases and, yes, they did consider whether fraud was a factor. The expert’s research and final conclusion is interesting.

Dr. Ian Stevenson focused primarily on the study of children claiming a prior life, but occasionally an extraordinary and unusual case would arise and he would study it. One of those case types that arose included those cases involving “xenoglossy.” Xenoglossy is the study of the paranormal phenomenon where a person suddenly is able to speak a language that he or she did not acquire by natural means.

He studied a case that arose out of Ohio in the 1970s – “The Case of Gretchen.” Gretchen’s story is documented in “A Preliminary Report of a New Case of Responsive Xenoglossy: The Case of Gretchen,” The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol 70, Jan. 1976. The information provided here is based on this article as this case is the subject of today’s blog article.

Carroll Jay (“C.J”.), a minister, part-time school teacher and an amateur hypnotist in Ohio, hypnotized his wife, Dolores (“D.J.”), in an effort to relieve her back pain. In response to a question, Dolores answered, “Nein,” which surprised C.J. Neither one of them knew German, although C.J. recognized “Nein” as being from the German language. During another session, C.J. “tried to encourage the personality that had spoken this German word to emerge further.” That is when Gretchen’s personality manifested and she continued to do so in subsequent sessions.

After researching this case, Dr. Stevenson was convinced that C.J. and D.J. were truthful when they indicated that D.J. had never been exposed to the German language prior to the manifestation of Gretchen. She was raised in West Virginia and the schools she attended did not even teach German. Further research into her childhood and the prevalence (or lack thereof) of German-speaking persons living in Harrison County, West Virginia (where she grew up), suggested that she and her family were not exposed to anyone in the community who spoke German. Dr. Stevenson even got affidavits from C.J., D.J., D.J.’s parents and younger sister affirming that D.J. never studied or learned German and he obtained a similar statement from D.J.’s older sister as well. Finally, D.J. passed a polygraph test. At every turn, the lack of exposure to German-speaking persons was confirmed.

Experts characterized Gretchen’s German vocabulary as modern and good, although her use of grammar was “more defective than her vocabulary.” In his article, Dr. Stevenson says, “She spoke mostly in short phrases each consisting of only a few words and her word order, a feature of much importance in the German language, was quite faulty.… Gretchen’s German pronunciation was excellent at some times, and satisfactory or good at most other times.”

According to Gretchen, unable to read and write, she never attended school; she died when she was 16. She was consumed with “religious strife and reverted to the subject repeatedly.” Based on her statements, she was Roman Catholic and she “expressed much fear of the ‘Bundesrat’ (best described by the phrase ‘Federal Council’) and she depicted its members as listening in to her conversations and posing a serious danger. She was constantly apprehensive about being overheard. She alluded to imprisonment and at one time gave the impression that she herself had been imprisoned.”

The experts believe that Gretchen’s tale suggested “a life in Germany during the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century.” During this period, “a severe struggle occurred between the secular authority of the Prussian (and German Imperial) government and the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholics endure terrible hardships and persecution at this time. The word ‘Bundesrat’ derives from this time.”

How is xenoglossy connected or related to the study of children claiming a past life? At the end of this study, Dr. Stevenson believed that “authentic cases of responsive xenoglossy provide … important evidence of the survival of human personality after death” (emphasis added). While this phenomenon may manifest itself differently in a human body, it is related because of the involvement of a personality from a past life.

Next week, I will discuss an interesting and equally perplexing xenoglossy-type case that Dr. Stevenson studied in India.



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