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Articles

What really happens when someone wakes up speaking another language

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Playground Traduccion

15 Junio 2017 09:21

Sometimes thought of as being a paranormal phenomenon, the real explanation is very different.

Imagine waking up one day to find you can suddenly speak Japanese, Swedish or Chinese. Or any language other than your own. You would be suffering from something known as xenoglossy: the ability to speak a language that you could not have acquired by natural means.

Is this really possible? The shortest and easiest answer is... no, of course not.

But there's more to it than that.

Xenoglossy consists in suddenly being able to speak a language that is not your own. It is usually accompanied by the inability to recall your own native tongue.

The phenomenon is often considered paranormal. But in reality, almost all documented cases of xenoglossy have been caused by neurological problems related to traumatic events, blood-supply irregularities or accidents. The condition can also be stress related.

When a brain disorder occurs in the left hemisphere – where speech develops – a person can lose the ability to use their native tongue.

That makes sense. But why do sufferers suddenly start speaking another language?

While it's true that some people have suddenly found themselves speaking a language that's not their own, the idea that they never knew the language at all is a myth. What really happens is that the person doesn't remember having learned it.

Xenoglossy is the supposed ability to speak a language that you never learned or that you don't remember learning

One example was an Italian man who suffered a coronary irregularity and began speaking French. Although he couldn't maintain a conversation in this language for very long, it was the only way he could communicate as he'd forgotten his Italian. He was able to speak some French because he had learned it 40 years ago.

'A man wakes up in his bedroom speaking Swedish for the first time' was the headline of a rather more complex case. What this man was suffering from was a syndrome similar to 'fugue state' or Transient Global Amnesia. When someone suffers from this they don't know who they are, they forget their most intimate memories, and they become a different person with another identity and older memories – most of which they'd previously forgotten. The man had probably learned some Swedish long ago. And, even though he'd forgotten every word, the syndrome caused him to speak it again.

The stories about people suddenly being able to speak languages they never learned are myths. What happens is that the person doesn't remember having learned the language

There is another related condition in which a person is suddenly unable to directly articulate a single word. This is known as glossolalia, and it is caused by similar lesions in the left hemisphere of the brain. It causes a person to lose the ability to speak correctly. Instead, the sufferer makes sounds which are similar to the words he or she wants to say, but unintelligible to others.

The magical gift of xenoglossy doesn't really exist. It's time to accept that you're never going to wake up speaking a language without having to learn it first. So you'd better sign up for language classes now, instead of waiting for a brain disorder to come along and give you language-speaking superpowers.

[Via hipertextual]

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