Xenoglossy is the speaking or writing in a language with which the speaker or writer is supposedly unfamiliar. For example, in the 1920s a woman named Pearl Curran (also known as Patience Worth) dictated a novel, Telka, that was in an early medieval English dialect that most people believe Curran could not have known. There have also been several instances of someone who only speaks English suddenly being able to speak French.

Xenoglossy involving speech often occurs as a monologue, but sometimes it is part of a conversation with others who are present, in which case it is called responsive xenoglossy. One of the best-documented instances of responsive xenoglossy involved “T.E.,” a thirty-seven year-old housewife who asked researchers not to reveal her identity. Studied by Ian Stevenson from 1958 through 1959, she would apparently speak, while under hypnosis, with the voice and mind of a seventeenth-century Swedish farmer named Jensen Jacoby. There was no apparent evidence that T.E. had learned Swedish prior to her xenoglossy, yet as Jacoby she was able to converse with other Swedish speakers in their language. In addition, when she was shown various objects from the seventeenth century, T.E./Jacoby identified them using the correct Swedish words. During his investigation, Stevenson specifically ruled out the possibility that T.E. was exhibiting cryptomnesia, whereby a person under hypnosis suddenly recalls skills that he or she has forgotten ever possessing. He concluded that T.E. had either been possessed by the spirit of Jacoby or had been him in a previous life.

Indeed, xenoglossy has occurred during sessions in which hypnosis is used specifically to uncover memories that might suggest reincarnation. For example, an American who claimed to have lived a past life in fifteenth-century France was, while under hypnosis, inexplicably able to speak a French dialect seemingly from that period. Xenoglossy has also been documented in cases of suspected demonic possession. For example, while supposedly possessed by a demon in the early twentieth century, Anna Ecklund was able to speak and understand numerous languages to which she had never been exposed.

In most cases, xenoglossy involves a recognized language. In others, however, the language is unrecognizable, and the speaker subsequently claims it is from some unusual place, such as another planet or a “lost world” like Atlantis. When this occurs, the speaker is often a psychic who claims to be channelling the spirit of someone from one of these places.

See Also:

  • automatic writing, art, and music;
  • Demonic Possession
  • Talking in Tongues
  • Patience Worth


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning