Recording and English translation attached bellow.

About 3 months ago, my Vietnamese friend shocked many people when she suddenly spoke to them in an unknown language after a normal night sleep. It sounded like a mixture of Korean and Japanese but certainly not of any common language. From the unique phonetic nature of this language, I found Pali to the closest match yet not quite the exact case. I also noticed the translations are usually much longer then the source text, even from a single word.

Everyone thought it was a joke only to then realize how impossible it is to speak out random chunks of verbal texts with inherent structure and vocabulary. We tried asking her to translate a long sentence with a hidden "keyword" in it like "Let's eat something and go to sleep" to check the consistency of the words she were using, then waited a day and asked her to do another one with the same word but different sentence. She got it right all the times.

She is completely fluent, confident and responsive while speaking. Her face gestures and eye contact are much more vibrant compared to her normal Vietnamese. She also becomes much more emotional to profound scenes in certain movies. She can translate any body of text into this language but sometimes struggles with translation of single word or phrase, especially when purposely asked to do so for the sake of curiosity of the listeners.

She stated that the words "flow" in her head, so verbalization is completely unconscious and effortless. She has NO experience with any phonetically related language (like the above mentioned Pali).

Aside from this, she's completely normal. Her Vietnamese and English (which is her second language) are kept intact. She's 20.


Here are some of the recordings when I told her to speak out a series of normal words and sentences.

House | Today is a great day | Black cat | He was born in 1824 | What is the meaning of life | I love you.

Recording (single file for all words, separated by a short pause, please note that each individual has rather long and complex translation with multiple syllables from a single short word).


Update: I asked her to do 2 more voice recordings, one excerpt from Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People and the other is simply a random speech (about the rain and jogging in the morning, from what she said).

Excerpt | Random speech.

In more than 25 years of working with people in business, university, and marriage and family settings, I have come in contact with many individuals who have achieved an incredible degree of outward success, but have found themselves struggling with an inner hunger, a deep need for personal congruency and effectiveness and for healthy, growing relationships with other people.

  • 3
    It sounds a lot like Korean, including some inflectional endings, which you could get from listening to Korean movies and trying to "invent" Korean. I can do that with Mongolian, though I don't know any Mongolian. This video gives examples:youtube.com/watch?v=MbNOR6cNgMg. She does actually slip in real words of Finnish and Swedish, probably by accident. – user6726 Oct 2 '16 at 19:17
  • 5
    Yes, this is what Sarah Thomason actuallly says, "My conclusion will be that, although fraud can probably be discounted in all these cases, the linguistic evidence is too weak to provide support for the claims of xenoglossy." – Alex B. Oct 2 '16 at 21:52
  • 5
    It would be better to invent tests of grammar (syntax, or even better, morphology) than vocabulary. Those are much harder to fake. That is what your friend is doing, by the way. She probably started it off innocently, inadvertently, or as a joke, but the increased attention has motivated her to develop it and keep up the ruse. It is no coincidence the "foreign tongue" sounds more similar to her comfortable native language than the difficult English she painstakingly learned. Invent some grammar tests, hide them under more obvious vocabulary tests. – Dan Bron Oct 2 '16 at 22:16
  • 4
    @AlexB. A fleshed-out version of that comment is worthy of an answer. Because it is the answer. – Dan Bron Oct 3 '16 at 0:23
  • 4
    @NguyễnTuấnDanh If that's the case, then I strongly urge you to get her to a doctor (a psychiatrist) for an evaluation. Regardless of whether believe the new speech is language (it's not, as sumelic cogently answered), to the extent that it's interfering with her life to the point she lost her job, it's a serious problem. The appropriate response isn't to be impressed by it, it's to be alarmed by it, and focus on restoring your friend's health. – Dan Bron Oct 3 '16 at 7:01

Sorry, this is mostly not a direct answer to your question. (Skip to the end for the more answer-y part.) I'm posting this as an answer since it's too long for the comments.

Speaking a previously unknown language is called “xenoglossy.” As that Wikipedia article states, there is no scientic evidence that this actually happens. Wikipedia cites a paper by the linguist Sarah Thomason that discusses cases of apparent xenoglossy like you have reported (i.e. cases where to certain non-linguist observers, it appears that a person is speaking in a foreign language); in particular, ones that have been reported by Ian Stevenson. Thomason found that none of the subjects actually showed the kind of linguistic knowledge that we would expect if they really could speak another language. In general, the person is actually nowhere near fluent and has extremely limited vocabulary. In many cases, there were plausible ways for the subjects to have prior exposure to the language or to related languages, picking up a few words or a general idea of the sound of the language.

In light of this, I don't believe your friend is actually "completely fluent" and "can translate any body of text into this language." It may seem this way to you, but this really doesn't seem to be something that happens, and there's no plausible explanation for how it could happen. You should consider alternative interpretations for the sounds you’ve observed your friend making.

Dan Bron's comment brought up the idea that she is "faking" it and you replied that you don't think this is true. Even if you think you can rule out this possibility, it doesn't mean that she can actually do what she thinks she can do (speak in another language). Thomason does not conclude that the subjects she discusses were all frauds. Stevenson apparently went to great lengths to show that this was implausible in most of the cases he presents, and Thomason mainly agrees with him about this. Your friend may not intend to deceive you; it's possible that this behavior is due to a mental condition that she doesn’t understand.

For a case like this where it’s not even apparent what the language is, it seems quite likely that at least some of it is glossolalia where there is no actual structure or meaning. You say you’ve checked for the presence of “key words,” but even if you’ve found these, it doesn’t show that all or even most of what she says is meaningful. Another thing that seems to me indicative of glossolalia is that you say her “translations” are generally much longer than the source text.

My advice for attempts at recognition

Depending on how much this is glossolalia, there may be nothing at all to recognize. (The only evidence you have that it isn't all glossolalia are these "consistency" tests you say you've carried out.) If your friend has no prior exposure to Pali, I wouldn't bother trying to investigate that, as it's likely a dead end. You refer to Korean and Japanese: are these languages that she is aware of? I don't mean to ask if she's studied them or anything: Thomason mentions in her paper the possibility that people identify certain distinctive sounds and vocabulary items just by passive exposure to certain foreign languages (for example, I've probably heard enough Japanese to do a vaguely convincing imitation to someone who doesn't speak it). In particular, you and user6726 both mentioned that the recordings seem somewhat similar to Korean, so if she's had any exposure to that, it's possible that it influenced her current vocalizations.

I don't really see any advantage to further investigating this possibility, though: at worst, I have an idea it might encourage delusional behavior or something like that. It doesn't sound like this phenomenon has been, or is likely to be, of any benefit to your friend. But I don't know your friend, and I'm not a psychologist, and you haven't asked for my advice in this regard.

  • In regards to "faking", it is easy if you know a related language. If you know Spanish and have been exposed to a smattering of stereotypical Italian from US gangster movies, you can mock up an "Italian" sentence that might fool someone with little knowledge of Romance languages, e.g. "Dos-a gatti cayron-a in caha-a grandissima." ("Two cats fall into a very big box.") – Robert Columbia Mar 29 at 19:17

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.