channelled languages and similar phenomena 4 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 13)

Hi again, everybody!

The most spectacular case of alleged channelling is an older case involving the Elizabethan mystic John Dee. A supposedly angelic language and an otherwise unknown script, both labelled ‘Enochian’, were allegedly channelled to an associate of Dee and were recorded in writing (in roman script). Don Laycock (who died tragically young) investigated this case in partnership with Stephen Skinner, and it is reported in one of the few ‘classics’ of skeptical linguistics (Donald C. Laycock (2nd edn completed by Stephen Skinner with two prefaces), The Complete Enochian Dictionary (London, 1978 and York Beach, ME, 1994)). Laycock was a brilliant Australian linguist, skeptic and polymath and remains a model for genuine ‘skeptical linguists’.

‘Enochian’ involves the Old Testament patriarch Enoch (discussed in Genesis and the apocryphal Book Of Enoch). After an initial set of many novel words in Roman letters presented in a series of squares, the corpus consists of apparently linguistic data involving two languages or systems, chiefly the second. Both were allegedly channelled to Edward Kelley, a ‘skryer’, and dictated to Dee, over the period 1581-89; Dee may have been actively questioning Kelley during this process. The overall system was regarded as an ‘angelic’ language. Nineteen ‘Calls’ or ‘Keys’ providing the bulk of the data are supplied with English translations; the content is that of religious/mystical invocations (narrative, exhortative, etc.).

Laycock and Skinner discuss earlier interpretive works from 1662 (when the texts were re-discovered) and after (up to the twentieth century), each influenced by contemporary ideas. They are highly critical, but are also open minded despite the nature of the material; they are inclined to consider Enochian largely non-paranormal (although Skinner is obviously convinced of the reality of Dee’s angels, at least). Laycock and Skinner concluded that ‘Enochian’, unusually in this context, patterns rather like a genuine but altogether unknown language, albeit with some most uncommon features including unprecedently heavy, wide-ranging suppletion (unrelated stems) in the verb-tense paradigms (see below).

The material itself emerges as having the following characteristics:

First System: words written in an alphabet of 21 named characters

It is unclear whether the words were actually received as words or as series of letter-names; in any event, they are mostly pronounceable (not always easily but with few genuinely phonetically awkward sequences) but ‘exotic’-looking. However, the strong patterns of alliteration, vowel and syllabic-structure contrasts, etc. suggest magical charms or glossolalia rather than genuine language. The grammar of the system is unclear, as translations are generally not available; the translations offered for individual words suggest anomalous lexical systems but most of the words are themselves unfamiliar, although occasionally etymologies (Hebrew etc.) are suggested by Laycock.

Second System: grammatically-structured sequences featuring many words, some pronounceable as English, some as if ‘exotic’; there is a highly suspicious one-to-one correspondence with the Roman alphabet with English spelling rules

The grammar manifests considerable detail. Sentence/clause and phrase-level word order is again suspiciously close to that of English; but there are often several Enochian words in sequence corresponding with one English word, with no analysis offered. Some of the variation in noun terminations suggests inconsistent systems of inflection as in Latin (‘declensions’), but there is too little data to be confident. Verbs show inflectional systems, but, very strikingly, there are anomalously high levels of suppletion (totally unrelated forms in different tenses of the same verb, as in English go/went). There is also some unusual ‘polyallomorphy;’ for instance, there are multiple items for negation. The rest of the grammar does not emerge fully but (again suspiciously) displays nothing highly non-Indo-European in character and is often close to English idiom.

Most of the vocabulary is again unfamiliar, though some words appear to have Latin, Greek or Hebrew etymologies. There is a highly anomalous numeral system. Interpretation is difficult because of the high percentage of ‘hapaxes’ (words occurring only once in the corpus of data).

Dee later allegedly received still other messages, including some words hardly pronounceable at all, such as alhctga. Skinner has published further analyses of Enochian. This altogether fascinating case obviously remains open.

There are other, less skeptical (although not always naïve) works on Enochian. These works do not always make sufficient use of the work of Laycock & Skinner, citing it only in places and not discussing its conclusions.

New sub-topics next time!


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