Glossolalia or Speaking in Tongues  Research Paper

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Therefore, we may conclude that the speaker has some cognitive function from the structure of the speech, even if it is based on a very basic set of language rules (Samarin 1972 120).

Three major linguistic traits emerged from other research into the subjec. Regardless of the geographic area, educational level, or age of the individual, glossolalia consists of:

Verbal behavior that has a certain number of consanants and vowels.

There seem to be a limited number of syllables that are reorganized into larger units.

These units are then rearranged using variations in pitch, volume, speed and intensity (e.g. A "word" group spoken with different inflections).

The "words" put together seem haphazard but emerge as word and sentence like because of the use of realistic timbre, rhythm, and melody (Samarin 1972).

Other research confims that glossolalia shows an oddly definitive syballant commonality with the particular spoken language of the speaker. One scholar noted that this is likely the result that it is "an artifact of a dissociative state tered trance" (Goodman 1969 227).

Psychological Functions of Glossolalia- The material, or psycho-social explanation for glossolalia is that it is a learned behavior -- an accepted part of a specific culture in which being able to do so is looked upon as a positive trait. One experiment showd that it was possible to teach a population glossolaic speech, 20% after only a 60-second hearing, and up to 70% after training (Spanos, Cross, Lepage and Coristine 1986). Even in Christian scenarios, the influence of a particularly charismatic leader or member of the group was shown to cause a group of the congregation to speak in a similar manner (The Charismatic Movement and Lutheran Theology 1972; (Newberg, Wintering, Morgan and Waldman 2006).

Glossolalia is not limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition. There are robust examples of its use in Haitian Voodoo, Santeria, occult practices globally and even in jazz music (scat). Most anthropologists find that it tends to have a more communicative and spiritual meaning (Samarin 149). However, in almost every case, it signals the transition into a heightened psychological state. Much like an initiation rite, it indicates that the individual is allowing a greater power into their psyche. The evidence also shows that the person speaking in tongues appears to derive pleasure from it -- and becomes proficient in this new skill which allows a greater expression of emotion and feeling. Thus, there is the therapeutic function that, in religion, feeling is cathartic -- and that speaking in tongues allows one to resolve emotional or traumatic issues (Mueller 1981). Thus, there appears to be a cathartic effect when glossolalia is used, perhaps psychologically part of the same reason that Gregorian or Buddhist Chanting helps transcend the mind into either focused meditation of deep relaxation. In this theory, glossolalia replaces the external chanting with the internal tone and rhythm known only to the individual. This may not induce the trance, but does likely contribute to its osmosis-like effects on the group itself (De Rosen 2010).

In 1969, a team from the University of Minnesota concluded that glossolalia was not part of the psychopathology of the individual; that it was not linked to schizophrenia or hysteria, and not part of any aberrant behavior. This does not mean that the research concluded it was authentic, however, simply that the individuals' speaking in tongues were not doing so because of a mental illness (Hine 1969).

Scientifically, though, it is possible that the phenomenon is part of a type of self- or group-hypnotic effect. Most speaking in tongues takes place in heightened and euphoric states, whether in Pentecostal, Christian, or non-Christian context. Eyes can be open or closed, and kinetic activity present or not (Spanos and Hewitt 1979). Moreover, research also shows that whether a person experiences trance or hypnosis during a glossolalic experience depends on the type of group with whom they affiliate. When compared to mediators in a yoga-based group, there were also frequent intense trances, manifestations of glossolalia, and even communion with a higher power. This research suggests that there are at least two types of glossolalia -- spontaneous and contextual. The spontaneous occurs more likely in groups that are radical, experiential, and led by a charismatic leader. Contextual, however, tends to be either an individual issue or one in which prayer is more meditative than physically experienced (Kavan 2004).

Historical Incidents- There were a few incidents in which the phrase "speaking in tongues" was historically recorded:

Approximate Year



Justin Martyr in Dialogue with Trypho

"If you want proof that the Spirit of God who was with your people and left you to come to us, come into our assemblies and there you will see Him cast out demons, heal the sick, and hear Him speak in tongues and prophesy" (Justin 150).

< 200 AD

Irenaeus in "Against Heresies"

Speaks of those "who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages" (Irenaeus circa 200).

Circa 390 AD

Augustine of Hippo, "Exposition on Psalm 32"

Discussion of people who sing in jubilation, not in their own language, but in a manner that "may not be confined by the limits of syllables" (Hippo circa 390).


The French Prophets: Camisards

Spoke sometimes in unknown languages, spoke certain words which were some unknown language; sometimes including the gift of prophesy and interpretation (Longman 2009).


Early Quakers

When they spoke with new tongues, the Lord's spirit came into them and led them (Ibid).


Edward Irving and the Catholic Apostolic Church

Irving writes of a woman who would speak for long periods in an unknown tongue (Root 1912 71).

The contemporary Pentecostal movement began around the turn of the century when the Reverend Charles Parham began to practice faith healing. He asked some of this students to investigate a phenomenon of "baptism by the Spirit," or the Pentecostal Blessing. Each returned with the story that it was indeed true, and the proof was that the affected individuals spoke in other tongues. This became quite important for the movement, and as Pentecostalism spread across America, and particularly during the difficult Depression Years, an organization of their religious service took shape -- free, loud, participatory, sermons and songs frequently interrupted by cries of "Amen" and "speaking in tongues." The fervent movements and altered states also included movements of the body and a feeling of light-headedness which, for the believers, was a sure sign of communion with God (Galanter 1999 72).

Testimonials -- There is a significant relationship between a Pentecostal congregation and the emotional status of the members. Research, in fact, using a Newfoundland coastal community found that the more frequently the congregation engaged in religious activities, especially the practice of speaking in tongues, the less likely they were to report any symptoms of emotional distress. This was particularly true when the community encouraged speaking in tongues, and with multiple generations who learned the technique and to open themselves to what they believe is Divine intervention (Ness and Wintrob 1980).

When people who speak in tongues are interviewed after, they typically are unable to recreate their glossolalic experience. They do usually know, though, that they have been in an altered state. From the religious point-of-view, many who are interviewed clearly believe that they are in touch with the Holy Spirit. Time after time the people are so caught up in the fervor of belief, and most, in the modern world, believe that this is a positive gift within their community, feel blessed and special. The power of speaking in tongues for believers is a true, and frankly miraculous, event that occurs in modern times, times in which miracles are not as common or believed as they were in Ancient times. Instead, testimonials on speaking in tongues indicate that they believe the word of God, through Jesus and Paul, manifests themselves when they cast out modern notions of logic and embrace the spirituality of the Holy Spirit (Chavda 2003).

In contrast, though, as the Pentecostal movement began infusing into American society and calling attention to their fervent practices, psychologists as early as 1927 thought glossolalia was pathological -- spoken by those of limited mental abilities (Cutten 1927).

Exegesis - For Biblical scholarship, the idea of speaking in tongues is a gift from the Holy Spirit to man. In both Ancient and Evangelical circles, it is not something that happens regularly, nor can it be forced. In fact, many modern religious scholars believe that the gift of speaking in tongues has been replaced by God's Gift of Interpreting the Scriptures (Dailey 1997). Taking a Biblical stance, however, indicates that the meaning of the term has validity, for the congregation and the participants. Because Luke, writer of Acts, was so interested in the…

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