TEL AVIV – A toddler from an Arabic-speaking Druze family in Israel’s north has been getting exposure on viral posts for his inexplicable ability to speak fluent English with a British accent, despite the fact that he’s never heard the language and his parents don’t speak a word of it.
O’Neal Mahmoud, 3.5, who was named after former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal and lives in the Druze town of Majdal Shams, didn’t speak until the age of 2, something that worried his parents and grandparents.
Then all of a sudden he started speaking in fluent English, replete with terms such as “My dear” and “Oh my goodness,” according to family members and experts who were interviewed on Channel 10’s “Real Faces” in a Hebrew-language report about O’Neal.
Promos for the TV report promised that by the end viewers would believe in reincarnation, since that seemed to be the only plausible explanation for O’Neal’s peculiar native-tongue. Transmigration of the soul is central to the Druze faith.
“I don’t understand every word, and sometimes I tell him, ‘Yes, okay’ but I don’t understand what he’s saying,” his grandfather Yahya Shams told Channel 10.
Some are claiming that O’Neal is a reincarnation of someone British, one expert on the TV report said, because he recognizes archaic items such as scales used to carry water from a well and ancient-looking keys.
His parents contacted a local children’s nurse, Irit Holman, who told her their son “has a problem: He speaks, but he speaks like the king of England.”
O’Neal also has a very limited understanding of Arabic and knows only a handful of words, despite it being the language he hears most at home and in the street. The Arabic he does speak is with a heavy English accent.
Experts said the toddler had a “Pakistani accent from south London.” He has been exposed to minimal English-language TV.
Neurologist Keren Ben Itzhak and speech therapist and linguist Dr. Khaloub Ka’awar, who were invited by the TV show to spend time with the child, both told Channel 10 that they had never encountered such a case and had no reasonable explanation.