channelled languages and similar phenomena 2 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 11)

Hi again, everybody! More on linguistic aspects of (allegedly) channelled communications and similar cases: first, oral ‘channelling’ and written ‘channelling’ or ‘automatic writing’. (I will provide (a) reference(s) to/for any specific source on request.)

Oral channelling is regarded by ‘believers’ as generated by spirits or other paraphysical entities rather than by the physical channeller or medium, who is often in a trance-like state at the time of production. These phenomena may involve languages known to the channeller (not of especial relevance here; the main point of skeptical interest in such cases involves information to which the channeller supposedly had no other access), identifiable languages (modern or other) not known to the channeller (again, very interesting, if genuine) or unidentified languages or ‘languages’ (as in glossolalia). Channellers often claim no understanding of the material produced where it is not in a language with which they themselves are familiar. For example, I met an Australian man who channelled large amounts of material in a ‘language’ which he himself could not interpret (and which – following information supposedly obtained from a ‘spirit guide’ – he wrongly identified as Seneca). In a few cases (see later on Flournoy for an example), unknown scripts are provided to accompany the oral material (see also below on written channelling and automatic writing).

Many cases of channelling are interpreted by believers as communication with deceased persons, including long-dead individuals as well as now-dead acquaintances. Examples include the works of Arthur Guirdham (reporting the channelling of a thirteenth-century French-speaker) and Margaret and Maurine Moon (reporting the channelling of ‘Wedge’, a seventeenth-century English-speaker).

In some cases involving deceased individuals from remote time-periods, and indeed in most cases involving languages not known to the channeller (contemporary or ancient), appropriate usage is not attempted. The channeller uses a contemporary form of her own first language; this is arguably both anomalous and ‘convenient’ (for channellers unschooled in language matters), but some such channellers adduce arguably specious reasons for this, such as the spirit’s desire to assist current listeners. One such case is that of the ‘Starseed Transmissions’; the channeller Ken Carey reports that these messages were transmitted in non-verbal form as ‘waves’ linking his ‘biogravitational field’ and neurology with those of the extraterrestrial/angelic communicators. Approximately synonymous English expressions were then ‘assigned’ to these ‘waves’ (apparently by the communicators).

However, such cases are obviously more convincing if linguistic forms appropriate to the period can be used. Unfortunately, where this is attempted the usage itself is seldom at all convincing to linguists. There are frequently errors and/or anomalies, for instance the mixing of usage from different periods. This suggests that the material has been fraudulently hoaxed and that the unconvincing features are errors which have intruded because the faker lacks the specialization required if utterances containing accurate forms in pre-modern usage are to be invented. One case which appears slightly less dubious is one in which a young Londoner allegedly lost his local accent when channelling.

The skeptical linguist Sarah Thomason reviewed some such cases and specifically investigated the cases of Marjorie Turcott (American, channelling ‘Matthew’, a seventeenth-century Scot), Jack Purcel (channelling ‘Lazaris’) and Julie Winter (channelling a ‘high-energy being’ called ‘Mika’). None appear convincing, especially where the supposed language variety is actually known; for example, Matthew’s dialect is mixed and often inaccurate for the period. Mika’s voice too displays an unconvincingly inconsistent ‘foreign’ accent. (The channellers/entities also make factual errors; for example, Turcott/Matthew makes various factual errors about Scotland.) Other such studies have been carried out by anthropological linguists, with similar results. In some other such cases there is a mixture of contemporary usage and an attempt at archaic forms, usually in the same language (that of the channeller); see for instance the case of Pearl Curran, who gained notoriety in 1913 for allegedly channelling a seventeenth-century character named Patience Worth, through an Ouija board; she and the spirit supposedly developed a powerful ‘mental linkage’. Skeptics such as Karen Stollznow and Joe Nickell hold that Curran herself was behind the creations.

An unusual older case involves a medium who supposedly channelled a speaker of Ancient Egyptian despite being untutored in the language. Her performances allegedly impressed some scholars of the language, though the vowels of Egyptian are poorly known (thus the channeller’s own ‘Egyptian’ vowels cannot be reliably checked) and there were in fact sundry errors, which the authors attempted to explain away. The case remains somewhat mysterious, but because of the date of the study it is no longer possible to investigate it thoroughly.

In cases involving languages altogether unknown to mainstream scholarship, such as ‘Atlantean’, it is of course impossible to demonstrate whether or not the usage presented is accurate. However, it is more difficult than most non-linguists imagine to invent a language (as opposed to an unstructured set of vocabulary items) in such a way that a linguist will be convinced, and even unknown ‘languages’ can be assessed for plausibility (this also applies to alleged extraterrestrial languages).

Other cases involve exotic phenomena such as the claimed channelling of a deceased person now living on Mars (as a spirit being) by the medium Hélène Smith, as reported by Théodore Flournoy. The spirit communications were in an unknown ‘Martian’ language, with an accompanying exotic script. This unidentifiable ‘language’ is in fact modelled (consciously or unconsciously) on a language familiar to the channeller, French. The grammatical and phonological structures of ‘Martian’ are clearly based on those of French, and the script is alphabetic and corresponds with the Roman alphabet as used to write French. Only the vocabulary is novel, although even this is partly derived by cipher from French, Hungarian and other languages known to Smith’s polyglot father.

As intimated, some cases of channelling involve ‘Atlantean’ (or ‘Lemurian’) languages emanating from spirit realms, etc. One such case involves some 3,000 ‘Atlantean’ words supposedly channelled to a medium. An Australian group called ‘Liquid Crystals’ claims that it is in touch with survivors of Atlantis (in space/other ‘dimensions’) and has access to ‘11 [Atlantean] languages spoken and written’.

Ramtha, channelled by J.Z. Knight, is said to be a ‘Lemurian’ warrior who lived over 35,000 years ago. His name is supposedly derived from the word Ram and means ‘the God’ in his own language, but the communications are in contemporary English and in a pseudo-British accent. So too are those of Mafu, who is channelled by Penny Torres and claims to be of a similar age and to know Latin. This account was critiqued by Thomason (see above).

More next time!

Mark

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