Twin Communication

by Vikki Stark

Family therapist Vikki Stark interviewed hundreds of women, teens, and girls all over the world for what she termed “The Sisters Project.” Her goal was to explore every aspect of the participants’ relationships with their sisters, both as children and adults. This passage is excerpted from a chapter entitled “Wombmates: Twin Sisters” in her book, My Sister, My Self: Understanding the Sibling Relationship That Shapes Our Lives, Our Loves, and Ourselves.

Twins are well known for having private means of communication. The women in The Sisters Project described that special interchange in two ways.

Idioglossia. A large percentage of participants referred to “that twin language,” the technical name of which is idioglossia. That’s the baby talk between twins that seems to be a kind of internal messaging system that others can’t understand. Jeannie, who had a “theatre boyfriend” while her sister had a “cowboy boyfriend,” was sent with her twin to a speech therapist as a young child because her parents were concerned about their language development: “We had a special language when we were babies. Our mom took us to a specialist because we would talk to each other in ‘jibber-jabber.’ She would try to figure out what one of us needed, but when it wouldn’t work, the other would start talking in the jibber-jabber and come back with a teddy bear.”

Another woman told about not using recognizable language until she and her twin were three and a half. Until then, they just babbled together in a direct call-and-response style from separate cribs. Later, the girls were put in a special education class because the school thought they were slow, though they were eventually moved to a class for talented and gifted kids.

As adults, some twins continue using a modified idioglossia. Thirty-three-year-old Darla wrote, “We don’t even use full sentences when communicating, but rather a series of invented sounds and code words. We try to be subtle about this when we’re in public, but sometimes we forget. At times, we don’t need words at all-facial expressions are enough. This afternoon we were walking in a parking lot, and my sister started to wander off in the opposite direction from the car. I guided her back by a series of tongue clicks.”

Just Knowing. The second manner of communicating goes beyond language or sound. Like Megan and Aviva, some sisters don’t require much in the way of communication; they just know. As one woman wrote, “Our souls are somehow intertwined.” Twenty-five-year-old Chase said, “Since we shared a bedroom for seventeen years, not to mention a womb, I think we have ways of understanding each other that don’t depend on language. I am able to predict fairly accurately how something will make her feel, how she will explain a memory, and the moments of her past that she will choose to explain her present.” That mysterious communication even transcends consciousness: “When we sleep next to each other, we dream of the same elements.”

Twins describe a kind of mental telepathy when they’re together (“You mean, you didn’t just say out loud that I should close the window!?”), but some also say that they know what their twin is going through, even when they’re apart. Marsha, who lived in a different state from her sister, wrote, “I actually had morning sickness for three months when Nathalie was pregnant. I had gone to a doctor and was going to have tests when the symptoms abruptly stopped at her three-month prenatal visit.”

Excerpted from My Sister, My Self: Understanding the Sibling Relationship That Shapes Our Lives, Our Loves, and Ourselves, by Vikki Stark. ©2007. Reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional. Visit Amazon, Barnes and Noble or www.mhprofessional.com.