Glossolalia is commonly called "speaking in tongues". For other uses of "speaking in tongues", see Speaking in Tongues (disambiguation).
Glossolalia or speaking in tongues is the vocalizing of fluent speech; but unintelligible (not pre-cognitive) utterances, often as part of religious practice. Its use (including use in this article) also embraces Xenoglossy - speaking in a natural language that was previously unknown to the speaker.
'Glossolalia' is constructed from the Greek γλωσσολαλιά and that from γλῶσσα - glossa "tongue, language" and λαλεῖν (lalein) "to talk". 'Speaking in tongues' is the result of translating into English the two components of the same Greek word.
The Greek expression (in various forms) appears in the New Testament in the books of Acts and 1 Corinthians. 'Speaking in tongues' has been used at least since the translation of the New Testament into Middle English in the Wycliffe Bible in the 14th century. Frederic William Farrar first used the word glossolalia in 1879.
Glossolalia is "utterances approximating words and speech, usually produced during states of intense religious excitement". The word is applied to similar phenomena in various religions.
'Speaking in tongues' is given various meanings by various people that are dependent on their viewpoint. Those who consider the outward appearance of the phenomenon understand 'speaking in tongues' to be the glossolalia practised by some Christians; that is, it consists of utterances that approximate words and speech, rather than being words and speech. Others, usually Christians themselves, dispute that understanding of the practice and therefore dispute the meaning of 'speaking in tongues'; they may assert that when people 'speak in tongues' they "speak in languages which they have not learned" (xenoglossia), perhaps the language of angels. Among such, what is spoken is understood to be a 'message from God', although some limit it to "prayer or praise".
Glossolalia came to prominence in modern times in the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 and in the subsequent growth of the Pentecostal movement. Since then there have been a number of attempts to describe glossolalia in a systematic way.
Linguistics of Pentecostal glossolalia
William J. Samarin, a linguist from the University of Toronto, published a thorough assessment of Pentecostal glossolalia that became a classic work on its linguistic characteristics. His assessment was based on a large sample of glossolalia recorded in public and private Christian meetings in Italy, Holland, Jamaica, Canada and the USA over the course of five years; his wide range included the Puerto Ricans of the Bronx, the snake-handlers of the Appalachians, and Russian Molakans in Los Angeles.
Samarin found that glossolalic speech does resemble human language in some respects. The speaker uses accent, rhythm, intonation and pauses to break up the speech into distinct units. Each unit is itself made up of syllables, the syllables being formed from consonants and vowels taken from a language known to the speaker.
That the sounds are taken from the set of sounds already known to the speaker is confirmed by others: Felicitas Goodman found that the speech of glossolalists reflected the patterns of speech of the speaker's native language.
Samarin found that the resemblance to human language was merely on the surface, and so concluded that glossolalia is "only a facade of language". He reached this conclusion because the syllable string did not form words, the stream of speech was not internally organised, and - most importantly of all - there was no systematic relationship between units of speech and concepts. Humans use language to communicate, but glossolalia does not. Therefore he concluded that glossolalia is not "a specimen of human language because it is neither internally organized nor systematically related to the world man perceives".
On the basis of his linguistic analysis, Samarin defined Pentecostal glossolalia as "meaningless but phonologically structured human utterance, believed by the speaker to be a real language but bearing no systematic resemblance to any natural language, living or dead".
Practitioners of glossolalia may disagree with linguistic researchers and claim that they are speaking human languages (xenoglossia). For example Ralph Harris, in the work Spoken By the Spirit published by Radiant Life/GPH in 1973, recounts seventy five occasions when glossolalic speech was understood by others. (Scientific research into such claims is documented in the article on xenoglossia.)
Felicitas Goodman, a psychological anthropologist and linguist, studied a number of Pentecostal communities in the United States, Caribbean and Mexico; these included English, Spanish and Mayan speaking groups. She compared what she found with recordings of non-Christian rituals from Africa, Borneo, Indonesia and Japan. She took into account both the segmental structure (such as sounds, syllables, phrases) and the supra-segmental elements (rhythm, accent, intonation), and concluded that there was no distinction between what was practised by Christians and the followers of other religions.
The material explanation of the ability to produce glossolalic speech has long been disputed. Pentecostals believe that it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet glossolalia is a material phenomenon which has physical and psychological patterns.
As Pentecostalism expanded in the 20th century and attracted the attention of the wider world, psychologists initially thought of glossolalia in pathological terms, thinking that it was caused by mental illness. In 1927 George Cutten described tongues-speakers as people of low mental abilities.
This explanation was effectively refuted in 1969 by a team from the University of Minnesota, who conducted an extensive study covering the United States, Mexico, Haiti and Colombia; they reached practitioners among Pentecostals, other Protestant groups, and Roman Catholics.
Subsequent studies have confirmed this conclusion. A 2003 statistical study in the religious journal Pastoral Psychology concluded that, among the 991 male evangelical clergy sampled, glossolalia was associated with stable extroversion, and contrary to some theories, completely unrelated to psychopathology.
Some kind of hypnosis or trance has often been suggested as the explanation for glossolalia. Much glossolalia takes place in heightened states, whether in Christian or non-Christian contexts. But glossolalia does not require a state of hypnosis or trance. An experiment was conducted in which 12 experienced glossolalists performed with eyes open and without accompanying kinetic activity (such as trembling or shaking) or any residual disorientation. Moreover glossolalia is not only displayed in group situations. The Minnesotan study found that "after the initial experience of glossolalia, most Pentecostals speak with tongues as frequently, if not more frequently, alone in private prayer", including some for the first time. These findings rule out hypnosis.
The material explanation arrived at by a number of studies is that glossolalia is "learned behavior". What is taught is the ability to produce language-like speech. This is only a partial explanation, but it is a part that has withstood much testing. It is possible to train novices to produce glossolalic speech. One experiment with 60 undergraduates found that 20% succeeded after merely listening to a 60-second sample, and 70% succeeded after training:
That glossolalia can be learned is also seen in the traces left behind by teachers. An investigation by the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn showed that the influence of a particular leader can shape a group's glossolalia: where certain prominent glossolalists had visited, whole groups of glossolalists would speak in his style of speech.
In 2006, at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers, under the direction of Andrew Newberg, MD, completed the world’s first brain-scan study of a group of individuals while they were speaking in tongues. The study concluded that while participants were exercising glossolalia, activity in the language centers of the brain actually decreased, while activity in the emotional centers of the brain increased. During this study, researchers observed significant cerebral blood flow changes among individuals while exercising glossolalia, concluding that the observed changes were consistent with some of the described aspects of glossolalia. Further, the researchers observed no changes in any language areas, suggesting that glossolalia is not associated with usual language function.   
There are three broad opinions on the Christian practice of speaking in tongues.
There are five places in the New Testament where speaking in tongues is referred to explicitly:
At Pentecost there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind, "divided tongues like fire" rested on the apostles, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in languages previously unknown to them, but recognizable to others present as their own native language. Glossolalists and cessationists both recognise this as xenoglossia, a miraculous ability that marked their baptism in the Holy Spirit. Something similar took place on at least two subsequent occasions, in Caesarea and Ephesus.
The Apostle Paul instructed the church in Corinth about speaking in tongues in his discussion of the gifts of the Spirit in a letter to them. His purpose was to encourage them to value the gift, but not too highly; to practice it, but not abuse it. In the letter, although Paul commands church brethren, "Do not forbid speaking in tongues" (1 Cor 14:39), and that he wishes those to whom he wrote "all spoke with tongues" (1 Cor 14:5) and claims himself to speak with tongues more than all of the church at Corinth combined ("I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all" 1 Cor 14:18). At the same time he discourages simultaneous speaking in tongues directed at people rather than God, lest unbelievers think the assembled brethren "mad" (1 Cor 14:23, 27). Tongues, says Paul, is speaking to God, rather than men, mysteries in the spirit (1 Cor 14:2), edifies the tongues-speaker (1 Cor 14:4), is the action of the praying of a person's spirit (1 Cor 14:14), and serves to bless God and give thanks (1 Cor 14:16-17).
Glossolalists and cessationists generally agree that the primary purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues was to mark the Holy Spirit being poured out on the church. At Pentecost the Apostle Peter declared that this gift, which was making some in the audience ridicule the apostles as drunks, was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel that God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17).
Despite all this in common, there are significant variations in interpretation.
Church History (A.D. 100 to 500)
Twentieth-century Pentecostalism was not the earliest instance of "speaking in tongues" in church history, but earlier examples are few; it has never been regarded as orthodox until the rise of Pentecostalism.
References to speaking in tongues by the Church fathers are rare. Aside from Irenaeus' 2nd-century reference to many in the church speaking all kinds of languages 'through the Spirit', and Tertullian's reference in 207 AD to the spiritual gift of interpretation of tongues being encountered in his day, there are no known first-hand accounts of glossolaia, and very few second-hand accounts.
What we do have are general remarks that Christ had given the gifts of the Spirit to the church, and that the gifts in general remained in the church.
The Fathers also recount the lists of gifts of the Spirit recorded in the New Testament.
There is one instance of a Father apparently recording that he had heard some in the church speaking all kinds of languages through the Spirit:
Tertullian in an anti-heretical apologetic alludes to instances of the 'interpretation of tongues' as one among several examples of 'spiritual gifts' common enough in his day to be easily encountered and provide evidence that God was at work in the church:
There were unorthodox movements that may have engaged in glossolalia. For example, Montanus was accused (by his opponents) of ecstatic speech that some have equated to glossolalia:
Their hostility to such a practice demonstrates that the mainstream (the anti-Montanists) regarded it as false, and would never have practised it. Indeed, "after the first or perhaps the second century, there is not record of it in any Orthodox source, and it is not recorded as occurring even among the great Fathers of the Egyptian desert, who were so filled with the Spirit of God thet performed numerous astonishing miracles, including raising the dead".
Chrysostom regarded the whole phenomenon of 'speaking in tongues' as not only something that was not practised in his own day, but was even obscure.
Augustine of Hippo regarded speaking in tongues (that is, xenoglossia) as a gift for the apostolic church alone, and argued that this was evident from the fact that his contemporaries did not see people receiving that gift in their own day.
Glossolalists sometimes appeal to a sermon by Augustine of Hippo on Psalm 32 where he urged believers to 'sing in jubilation'. Whether speaking in tongues is involved is disputed.
Church History (A.D. 500 to 1900)
Outbreak of Glossolalia, 1901 to 1906
The modern Christian practice of glossolalia is often said to have originated around the beginning of the twentieth century in the United States. The city of Topeka, Kansas is often cited as the center of the Pentecostal movement and the resurgence of glossolalia in the Church. Charles Fox Parham, a holiness preacher and founder of Bethel Bible College in 1900, is given the credit to being the one who influenced modern Pentecostalism. During what has been called a sermon by Parham, a bold student named Agnes Ozman asked him for prayer and the laying on of hands to specifically ask God to fill her with the Holy Spirit. This was the night of New Year's Eve, 1900. She became the first of many students to experience glossolalia, coincidentally in the first hours of the twentieth century. Parham followed within the next few days, and before the end of January 1901, glossolalia was being discussed in newspapers as a sign of the second advent of Pentecost.
Parham now found himself as the leader of the movement and traveled to church meetings around the country to preach [in the terminology of that era] about holiness, divine healing, healing by faith, the laying on of hands and prayer, sanctification by faith, and the signs of baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire, the most prominent being speaking in tongues.   
Word of the outpouring of the Spirit spread to other Holiness congregations. Parham wrote, studied, traveled, preached, and taught about glossolalia for the next few years. Parham and others who believed in or manifested tongues were persecuted from both inside and outside of the church. In 1905, he opened a Bible school in Houston. It was there that William J. Seymour became indoctrinated. It is notable that Seymour was black, and Parham was white. It is further notable that Seymour did not speak in tongues while in Houston.
When Seymour was invited to speak in Los Angeles about the baptism of the Holy Spirit in February 1906, he accepted. His first speaking engagement was met with dispute, primarily because he preached about "tongues" being a primary indication of the baptism of the Spirit, yet he did not himself speak in tongues. It was not until April that his preaching and teaching about glossolalia paid dividends, first to a man named Edward Lee, and later to Seymour. Similar to the experience of Parham in 1901, Seymour's students received the ability to speak in tongues a few days before he did.
By May 1906, indeed only one month after the Great San Francisco Earthquake which was seen as an "act of God", Seymour was leading a major movement of the Spirit known as the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. It has been characterized as an inter-denominational, inter-racial, inter-sex Pentecostal revival during a time in the United States in which women and non-whites were not afforded the same civil rights as white men. People from many denominations and races gathered daily to see and hear, to preach and pray, to sing and shout, and to speak in new tongues. Newspapers, clearly biased against the movement, reported the happenings as a wild and weird group of mostly "colored" people acting as if they were pretty disturbed, exhibiting behavior unheard of in most Protestant churches of the time: intense shouting, vigorous jerking, dancing, passing out, crying, howling, emotional outbursts, and speaking gibberish. Many religious leaders in Los Angeles and other places were quick to disparage the goings on at Azusa Street, informing their flocks that the new Pentecostal movement was (at worst) sensational, Satanic, Spiritualism, and (at best) too overly focused on the Holy Spirit instead of Jesus Christ. The matter of glossolalia was then (as it is now) hotly debated within the Church as being either heresy or exemplary and necessary for a spiritual rebirth in Jesus Christ.
Witnesses at the Azusa Street Revival wrote of seeing fire resting on the heads of participants, miraculous healings in the meetings, and incidents of speaking in tongues being understood by native speakers of the language. According to the first issue of William Seymore's newsletter, "The Apostolic Faith," from 1906:
Contemporary Christian, 1915 to present
The revival at Azusa Street lasted until around 1915. But from it grew many new Protestant churches and denominations, as people visited the church in Los Angeles and took their new found beliefs to communities around the US and abroad. Many denominations rejected the doctrines of Parham and Seymour, while some denominations adopted them in one form or another. Baptism of the Holy Spirit was a doctrine that was embraced by the Assemblies of God (est. 1914) and Pentecostal Church of God (est. 1919) and others. Glossolalia became entrenched into the doctrines of many Protestant churches and denominations in the twentieth century. The later Charismatic movement was heavily influenced by the Azusa Street Revival and Pentecostalism's glossolalia.
Some Christians practice glossolalia as a part of their private devotions; some accept and sometimes promote the use of glossolalia within corporate worship. This is particularly true within the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions. Both Pentecostals and Charismatics believe that the ability to speak in tongues, and sometimes the utterance itself, is a supernatural gift from God.
Three different manifestations or forms of glossolalia can be identified in Charismatic / Pentecostal belief. The "sign of tongues" refers to xenoglossia, wherein one speaks a foreign language he has never learned. The "gift of tongues" or "giving a tongue" refers to a glossolalic utterance by an individual and addressed to a congregation of, typically, other believers. This utterance is believed to be inspired directly by the Holy Spirit and requires a natural language interpretation, made by the speaker or another person if it is to be understood by others present. Lastly "praying in the spirit" is typically used to refer to glossolalia as part of personal prayer.
The discussion regarding tongues has permeated many branches of the Christian Church, particularly since the widespread Charismatic Movement in the 1960s. Many books have been published either defending or attacking the practice. The issue has sometimes been a contributing factor in splits within local churches and in larger denominations. The controversy over tongues is part of the wider debate between conservative, evangelical Christians whose approach to the Christian Scriptures requires addressing the texts that endorse glossolalia. Within that debate are continuationists who believe that glossolalia has a role to play in contemporary Christian practice and cessationalists and dispensationalists who believe that all miraculous gifts, including glossolalia, were featured only in the time of the early church.
Aside from Christians, other religious groups also have been observed to practice some form of theopneustic glossolalia. It is perhaps most commonly in Paganism, Shamanism, and other mediumistic religious practices.
Glossolalia was exhibited by the renowned ancient Oracle of Delphi, whereby a priestess of the god Apollo (called the Pythia) speaks in unintelligible utterances, supposedly through the spirit of Apollo in her.
The Jewish religion has various citations of unintelligible speech beginning with the verse in Psalms 81:6 -
The Talmud explains that Joseph was taught to understand all 70 toungues at the night of New years eve, before receiving rule over Egypt under Pharoe. [Rosh Hashana 18a, Sotah 41a] 
Various rituals and references exist about prayer of people
not familiar with the holy language, and the importance
of prayers said by people who only know how to mumble the
words without understanding them. In the 17th century it
was said in the name of the Baal
Shem Tov upon hearing the prayer of someone who instead
of praising God who blesses the years (HaShonim)
praised God who blesses the women (HaNoshim). He
said that this person's prayers are the highest and holyest.
Today there is a Hassidic sect of Jews who believe in the
importance of repeating a citation "Na Nach..." for national
and personal redemption.
Certain Gnostic magical texts from the Roman period have written on them unintelligible syllables such as "t t t t n n n n d d d d d..." etc. It is conjectured that these may be transliterations of the sorts of sounds made during glossolalia. The Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians also features a hymn of (mostly) unintelligible syllables which is thought to be an early example of Christian glossolalia.
In the nineteenth century, Spiritism was developed by the work of Allan Kardec, and the phenomenon was seen as one of the self-evident manifestations of spirits. Spiritists argued that some cases were actually cases of xenoglossia (from Greek,xenos, stranger; and glossa, language. When one speaks in a language unknown to him). However, the importance attributed to it, as well as its frequency, has decreased significantly. Some present-day spiritists[who?] regard the phenomenon pointless, as it does not convey any intelligible message to those present.
Glossolalia plays a major role in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, in which those exposed to the patterns generated by the titular computer virus begin to speak in the Sumerian language, spreading a destructive meme associated with the goddess Ashurah.
Published - October 2008
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