channelled languages and similar phenomena 5 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 14)

Hi again, everybody!

A further phenomenon of the same general type as channelling involves ‘Electronic Voice Phenomenon’: electronically generated noises which resemble speech in known or unknown languages but are not the result of intentional voice recordings or renderings. The parapsychologist Konstantin Raudive was the first to popularize the concept; he reported that most instances of EVP were the length of a word or phrase, sometimes displaying alternation between languages, unfamiliar grammatical patterns, etc. Notable earlier claims along these lines had been made by Attila von Szalay & Raymond Bayless and Friedrich Jürgenson, and more recent advocates of EVP or associated/similar phenomena include Peter Bander, Tim and Lisa Butler, Sarah Estep, Frank Sumption (who invented a ‘box’ for accessing EVP), George Meek (working with the channeller William O’Neil), Mark Macy, Christopher Moon, Ernst Senkowski, Judith Chisholm, etc., etc.

Most of these advocates of EVP claim that it is of paranormal origin. Explanations include living humans imprinting thoughts directly on an electronic medium through psychokinesis, and communication by spirits, beings from other dimensions or extraterrestrials. The recent work by Anabela Cardoso examines the extraterrestrial hypothesis but concludes that EVP emanates from deceased persons. Steve Mizrach suggests that paranormal entities with the capacity for speech may actually be brought into being by the use of the relevant technology.

Most skeptics who have examined these cases consider that the voices are probably artefacts of the listening process. Sources include static, stray radio transmissions, background noise (especially where the sensitivity of the recording equipment has been enhanced) and ‘apophenia’ (the finding of significance in insignificant phenomena, here illustrated by ‘auditory pareidolia’, the interpretation of random sounds as forming words and longer oral texts in a language known to the listener); some cases may simply be hoaxes.

Another important relevant alleged phenomenon in this general area is xenoglossia: cases of humans speaking and/or understanding languages which they have never learned – not in a trance, as if channelling or experiencing glossolalia, but as a second personality which emerges in everyday situations (and usually does not appear to command the language used by the speaker’s main personality). The material apparently emanates from ‘another part’ of the speaker’s own mind. In some reports of xenoglossia the command of the relevant ‘other’ language is reported as only passive (or largely so), but in others active command is reported. See earlier on parallels and links involving xenoglossia on the one hand and glossolalia or channelling on the other.

The psychologist Ian Stevenson claimed several cases of this kind as evidence of reincarnation; the second language is one which was acquired by normal means in a previous lifetime and has somehow been transmitted into the mind of the new incarnation. Of course, this is a possible explanation only if reincarnation itself is a genuine phenomenon; it is rejected both by the Judaeo-Christian-Muslim religion complex (according to these religions, people live in this world only once) and by contemporary (largely ‘materialistic’) science (according to most scientists, death is the end of a person’s existence). Belief in reincarnation is associated with Hinduism and Buddhism and their offshoot religions. If reincarnation is indeed the explanation for xenoglossia, this has major consequences for world-views.

Several writers on such matters, including Steven Rosen and some of the advocates of glossolalia and channelling discussed earlier, have endorsed Stevenson’s interpretation of such cases, at least to a degree; and Ian Lawton examined the matter with some care, drawing no firm conclusions but not categorically rejecting Stevenson’s analysis, and critiquing some skeptical comments.

However, Sarah Thomason found that Stevenson’s reports of fluency and understanding were much exaggerated. The subject’s command (active and passive) of the ‘other’ language is typically minimal and unimpressive, and could have been obtained from very limited studies which the subject might have forgotten (‘cryptomnesia’, a term coined by Flournoy; see earlier). In other such cases, it emerges that the subject had in fact had sufficient exposure to the language in question (not always consciously) to account for the data, or was familiar with a very closely related language. In addition, Stevenson’s own grasp of linguistics appears limited; he makes some conceptual errors, suggesting for instance that the usage of uneducated speakers of languages cannot be expected to manifest grammar (a folk-linguistic idea).

In some other such cases there is again a mixture of contemporary usage and an attempt at archaic forms, usually in the same language; see for instance the case of the Bloxham Tapes, made under hypnosis and allegedly relating to past-life experiences. In one extreme case, it is reported that a 13-year old Croatian awoke from a one-day coma no longer able to speak her native language but instead communicating in German. As Benjamin Radford comments in this context, such cases have at times been attributed to demonic possession – although reincarnation might still be adduced in such cases.

Some groups of religious believers also claim that they are able to understand languages which they have never learned. This was reported in conversation with me by some followers of Subud in New Zealand, who were unfortunately uninterested in demonstrating the truth of their claims (as occurs in some cases involving glossolalia).

There are a few cases involving linguistic material and time travel. The best known case of linguistic information allegedly arising out of time travel or at least the viewing of past events involves the ‘Chronovisor’, a supposed mid-twentieth-century invention by one Father Marcello Pellegrino Ernetti which allowed observation of past events (but not participation). An important piece of evidence concerns a lengthy, previously unrecorded passage in Latin, around 10% of a play which is known to have existed but which is largely lost (Thyestes, by Quintus Ennius). However, there are anachronisms in the text, and in addition the clustering in this passage of a high proportion of the surviving minor fragments is suspicious. If the text is a hoax, as must surely be judged probable, someone who was proficient in Latin went to a great deal of trouble in the course of faking it.

Some reports of non-humans using language involve apparitions of what appear to be the spirits of deceased animals. One of the most striking cases involved a ghostly mongoose known as ‘Gef’ which allegedly interacted with the Irving family at a remote location in the Isle of Man during the 1930s, speaking intelligently in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, Welsh, etc. Christopher Josiffe believes that some sort of anomalous phenomenon was in fact taking place; he suggests that Gef was ‘formed’ from the collective minds of the three family members. Support for this view is furnished by the fact that Gef’s reported interests and knowledge overlapped substantially with those of the family; his ability to speak some Hebrew (like the father) was also interesting in this context. However, he also appeared to have some knowledge of other matters such as song lyrics which were supposedly unknown to the family. Josiffe’s interpretation depends, of course, upon acceptance of the reality of collective minds and related phenomena more generally.

Full references for any specific item on request! More next time!


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