Newspapers Wake Up From A Coma Speaking Fluent Bullshit

This is a story that recently popped up in both the Daily Fail and the Telegraph (from now on referred to as the BellyLaugh).

Apparently, Croatian doctors are baffled after a teenage girl who fell into a mysterious coma woke up speaking fluent German. The teenager has been unable to speak Croatian – although can understand it when it is spoken to her – and now communicates only in German.

Pretty off-the-wall I think you’ll agree. This is the kind of thing that would have steadfast believers in past lives screaming “Proof!” in very loud voices, particularly if this unfortunate teenager didn’t speak German beforehand. Going by the tone of the article, you would think that this is what had actually happened. That would be a bona-fide miracle. However, despite it’s ‘mysterious event’ tone, the article is quick to point out that the girl in fact did know ‘a bit’ of German, although apparently her usage of the language following the coma was far superior to the mastery of the language she had when she was intially taken ill.

Apparently. (I’m getting used to that word, now.)

The parents of the girl, a thirteen-year-old from the Southern town of Knin, said that their daughter had only just started studying German at school and had been trying to read German books and watch German television – but had never been that good at german.

Yes. She was ‘studying’ it, ‘reading’ it and ‘watching’ TV programs in it, but despite all that she was, you know, a bit rubbish…

Excuse me while I prop up my dying sense of hope in a rational world and try to shake it violently awake.

The article is filled with references to the “mysterious coma” and “the unusual case”, and speaks of “getting to the bottom of the mystery”. It really tries its best to make it all seem as mystical and impossible-seeming as it can. Despite this, they are forced in their final paragraph to point out that the coma only lasted twenty-four hours and was probably caused by extremely high body temperature. So it seems as if the doctors aren’t quite as baffled as the Daily Fail/BellyLaugh axis of evil suggests.

In fact, the hospital director, Dujomir Marasovic, said:

“You never know when recovering from such a trauma how the brain will react. Obviously we have some theories although at the moment we are limited in what we can say because we have to respect the privacy of the patient.”

I like to think that the girl was a secret foreign languages junkie, staying up late in her room at night with a torch under the covers, speaking fluent German to herself.

Of course, the case is still unusual. A psychiatrist involved with the case, Dr Mijo Milas, wisely pointed out that:

“In earlier times this would have been referred to as a miracle; we prefer to think that there must be a logical explanation – it’s just that we haven’t found it yet.”

Fair enough, and about as skeptical as you get in the Daily Fail/BellyLaugh. Unfortunately, the wise Dr Milas then goes on to say:

“There are references to cases where people who have been seriously ill and perhaps in a coma have woken up being able to speak other languages – sometimes even the Biblical languages such as that in old Babylon or Egypt – at the moment though any speculation would remain just that – speculation – so it’s better to continue tests until we actually know something.”

Damn right it is! Personally I’d love to see ANY evidence of people suddenly speaking ancient languages following a coma, because I’m willing to bet money that if anyone ever did, they were probably students of ancient languages!


That was the last gasp of my hope in a rational world.

Now, to the girl’s condition itself. The brain does funny things. People with brain injuries can lose short term memory, forget their own families, forget how to speak, all kinds of bizarre and unusual things. Severe stutterers can sometimes sing and speak their second languages fluently. Aphasia sufferers speak the wrong words because they simply can’t access the right ones, even though they’re attempting to make perfect sense, and grammatically they do. If this coma affected the parts of the girl’s brain which dealt with speech and language, I see no technical reason why something like this couldn’t happen. You don’t even need to be personally ‘fluent’ in the language as such. There is a gap between the amount of information you absorb and how efficiently and capably you can use that information. This girl may very well have read and heard more German words than she could personally recall consciously in a conversation. Somewhere she will have taken in that information, but just not immediately processed it for her conscious mind.

In addition, I would probably dispute the supposed high level of German she purportedly now speaks. That to me sounds like simple exaggeration, provided by those around the girl and then amplified by the reporters themselves. However, I can’t know that for sure, so I’ll leave that.

This story is fascinating and amazing on its own. Even if she woke only speaking the five words of German she knew and none of her first language, that would be fascinating enough on its own. It infuriates me when newspapers feel they have to portray stories like this in almost mystical terms, as if they’re reporting on a miracle. No: give us the facts, we’ll decide whether it’s a miracle or not. This tends to happen a lot with stories from abroad. I suspect it is because it makes it more difficult for readers and other journalists to verify the truthfulness of those stories. Indeed, I tried my best to find a source for this story outside of the identical articles in the Daily Fail/BellyLaugh but found absolutely nothing.

In fact, I’m not sure it even exists. Maybe it’s all just made up.

What a miracle!

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  1. #1 by Graham Egerton on April 26, 2010 - 09:47

    I similar thing happens to me when drunk, sober not a word of French, past patisserie and déjà vu, pile on the alcohol and I can and have carry on conversions in perfect French. Isn’t the brain a strange thing.

  2. #2 by matt hill on February 20, 2011 - 23:45

    My wife is Spanish and spend a lot of time around spanish speaking people. I have studied the language a little but have never been able to speak it comfortably. I too when very drunk have found that I am much more comfortable speaking Spanish and my Spanish is passable. I think that sober, I don’t feel right speaking it and I try too hard. After a few drinks I am more relaxed and find the accent much easier. Crazy right?

  3. #3 by A on September 9, 2012 - 00:25

    98% sarcastic crap and 2% rational explanation of the fact that the author of the article knows nothing about such cases or them happening, but does not believe in general because it simply doesnt fits his personal beliefs.

    Miracle? Hardly.
    Just an another person with a boxed up closet way of thinking.

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