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Related to glossolalia: speaking in tongues


glossolalia (glŏsˌəlāˈlēə) [Gr.,=speaking in tongues], ecstatic utterances usually of unintelligible sounds made by individuals in a state of religious excitement. Religious revivals are often accompanied by manifestations of glossolalia, and various Pentecostal (see Pentecostalism) movements cite for authority the Acts of the Apostles, which records that on the day of Pentecost the Apostles “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.” There are other New Testament references to the phenomenon. The Corinthian believers overvalued the gift; Paul in 1 Corinthians encouraged the orderly use of the gift and “interpretation” of the utterance so that all might be edified. In Acts, however, the use of the gift produces speech in other human languages as a kind of reversal of the confusion of tongues produced at the Tower of Babel.


See J. P. Kildahl, The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues (1972); G. T. Montague, The Spirit and His Gifts (1974).

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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

From the Greek glossa, “tongue,” and lalia, “chatter,” glossolalia is the term used for “speaking in tongues.” Sometimes at religious gatherings or in séances, someone will go into a trance and start speaking in an unknown language. Many times witnesses to such an event will make extravagant claims, such as that the person was “Speaking in ancient Egyptian” or that they were “speaking Greek.” It is not known exactly what ancient Egyptians sounded like, and unless there was someone present who could actually verify that language, there can be no evidence for such utterances. Far more frequently the speech is utter gibberish. In fact, one definition of glossolalia is “speaking in pseudo-tongues”. Professor Charles Richet (1850–1935) preferred the term Xenoglossis, which covered both speaking and writing in unknown languages, whether real or pseudo.

Nandor Fodor reports that in the pamphlet Drei Tage in Gros Almerode written by a theological student of Leipzig, J. Busching, there is information on ten cases of xenoglossis at a religious revival at Almerode, Hesse, in 1907. He said, “The phenomena began with a hissing or peculiar gnashing sound. These sounds were caused by the subject, not wishing to disturb the order of service by interrupting a prayer already commenced, exerting himself to repress the inward impulse acting on his organs of speech. But all that had to come came, and the momentarily repressed glossolalies only burst forth with increased vigor.”

The Spiritualist medium Laura Edmonds, daughter of Judge John Worth Edmonds (1816–1874), claimed the gift of tongues. Although normally she could speak only English and a smattering of French, while entranced by Spirit she spoke a large number of different languages with great fluency, including Spanish, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, and Hungarian. Indian dialects were also identified. These phenomena and many others were all very meticulously recorded by her father. She was possibly the first Spiritualist medium to exhibit glossolalia. According to Emma Hardinge Britten, medium Jenny Keyes sang in Italian and Spanish, languages with which she was not familiar.


Britten, Emma Hardinge: Modern American Spiritualism. (1870) New York: University Books, 1970
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Shepard, Leslie A: Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. New York: Avon Books, 1978
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) The phenomenon in which the speaker pronounces meaningless words and word combinations preserving only a few characteristics of speech (tempo and rhythm, syllable structure, and comparative frequency of various sounds); encountered in patients with certain mental illnesses.

(2) An element of religious cultism found in several primitive religions—for example, shamanism and a few Christian sects. Often, particularly in religious sects, the speaker is subjectively convinced that he is speaking some actually existing language. Zaum’ (poetic language using words regardless of their meaning) and certain forms of emotionally burdened speech are related to glossolalia. Thus, K. I. Chukovskii described a case of glossolalia in a mother’s addressing her child.


Konovalov, D. G. Religioznyi ekstaz v russkom misticheskom sektantstve. Sergiev Posad, 1908.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Gibberishlike speech; unintelligible jargon.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Zweitausend ]ahren der Zungenreden (Glossolalia in German translation).
The preface to my Honours poetry collection 'Womb Tongues' (Figure 1) consists of a poem overlaying differing tongues in phonetic translation, followed by a further translation (Figure 2) without the overlay and last, one aching and immutable plea in the form of a single sentence (followed by a Latin encoding and cryptic play on the letter 'C' and the amniotic chora as 'below') that finally interprets the entire experience of the glossolalia from the body onto paper into recognisable language.
(34) Relevant here is Csordas's discussion of glossolalia, inspired in part by Merleau-Ponty, as "embodied otherness." See, for example, Csordas 2001, 238.
Arguably, this is a weary awareness that too often the academy has become an industrial machine for processing complex texts into routine glossolalia.
The adherents of these movements believe that the pneuma--Holy Spirit--plays a central role in their lives and their communities as a source of revelation and reformation manifested through tongues (glossolalia), divine healing, prophecy, and deliverance (exorcism).
and they feature zombie saints, probability theory, glossolalia, the ACLU, and a reminder about the importance of buying designer shoes for the Rapture."
The recordings, spanning more than a hundred years, are divided into: trance speech (words spoken by mediums in a presumed altered state of consciousness during a seance), direct voices (speech in a seance without an apparent natural source), precognitive claims, xenoglossy (speaking in a tongue apparently never learned by the speaker), glossolalia ("speaking in tongues" or in an incomprehensible language), paranormal music (reputedly channeled from a dead composer or interpreter), raps and haunting phenomena, and electric voice phenomena.
Whose fits of glossolalia only the pigeons understand
Kostlevy points out that while the MCA especially antagonized moderate holiness folks (non-holiness Protestants and Roman Catholics were so far beyond salvation they were hardly worth the effort), it also criticized pentecostalism for its adoption of glossolalia, even though a number of other early pentecostals had been closely associated with the MCA and had adopted many of its theological innovations.
You couldn't make out what they were saying; that you were hearing it from far away." (61) Considered in this way, Dolmen Music is glossolalia. As described by Certeau, glossolalia is a "trompe l'oreille," it is "the art of speech within the bounds of an illusion." (62) Monk creates fictions of language that ground semantike in phone without annihilating it; she maintains a tension just shy of the breaking point and grounds sounds in the relations between the voices and bodies of the ensemble.
It displays two fundamental but contradictory aspects: 1) a semantic excess that is impossible to process or resolve to determinate meanings, and 2) a semantic poverty characterized by glossolalia or a kind of liturgical speech (the mere repetition of sounds that attests to the human capacity for language).