Glossolalia essay example:
“I lay here, unsure, still and silent. I’m waiting but I am not sure for what. My palms are sweaty and my whole body is encompassed by nervousness. Then I open my mouth…at first there is no more but a slight utterance of a few vowels. Repetition, repetition, repetition. I question my sanity and then my worthiness but yet I don’t stop and the repetition continues. Then slowly the vowels begin to join and unknown words start to form. My heart beats faster and my tongue begins to move without thought. I start to speak but yet I don’t understand what I’m saying nor do I have control over what splurges from my mouth. My body remains still, my mouth racing and my mind unattached. I begin to feel calm as the nervousness diminishes and slowly my mouth stops, my tongue seizes and I am left astonished and amazed.”(Myers & Biocca, 1984).
Glossolalia is a term many are unfamiliar with however tongues, or the gift of tongues, is a far more well known expression. Both of these terms nonetheless are synonymous with each other and have come to describe “ecstatic or apparently ecstatic utterance of speech like sounds” (Cialdini et al.,1997).
There is no doubt today however about the nature of glossolalia. When a person speaks in tongues they are producing utterances of short or long duration that sound like a form of language. Even though they may only convey a modest idea of what the grammar or vocabulary might be, it seems enough that the production of the speech is religiously significant. There are estimates of several million glossolalics in the world today. What these people have in common is not simply the underlying factor that they all possess such a gift. In fact, most would say that this skill, or gift as they would put it, is less important than the experience that produces it. The name that this experience is most widely known by is “the baptism in” or “the filling with the Holy Spirit” (Myers & Biocca, 1984). To many it is only a step forward on a journey already started but to others it is an entirely new kind of experience. For all, it means a new and previously undiscovered sense of the immediacy and intimacy of God.
The ways in which the experience is conceived and described vary greatly, depending in large part on the individual’s knowledge of the Bible, as well as his or hers own religious tradition, personality and so forth. No outsider’s description of glossolalia, however, is really objective and well favored unless it attempts to describe the tradition of glossolalia in religion, the different forms and their linguistic authenticity as well as the psychopathology of those who receive such a gift. Many have sought to prove or disprove glossolalia using these descriptions, however, to simply better understand such a phenomenon one needs to look objectively at all three of the aspects of this unique gift.
Initially, an understanding of the tradition of glossolalia in religion is necessary. Although it has been characteristic of certain forms of Judaism and Islam, it has been most noteworthy in the Christian tradition. Speaking in tongues has been a significant aspect of religious practice since the first century A.D. In the New Testament there are two general or primary references to glossolalia. According to Acts 2:2.5, the gift of tongues occurred on the day of the Pentecost. On this occasion, the early Christians were praying in Jerusalem when “suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance”(Cialdini et al.,1997). Subsequently, all those present who spoke different languages heard the Christians speak to each of them in their own native tongue. The implication is that this incident included intelligible speech, a type of phenomenon not characteristic of most glossolalia since that time. The second major reference to glossolalia in the New Testament is found in 1 Cor. 12-4 where spiritual gifts are discussed. In this respect, speaking in tongues is included in a list of ways in which God acts in people’s lives. By giving gifts such as healing, prophecy, wisdom, speaking in tongues and so on, the Lord demonstrates his power and grace.
There are nevertheless important differences between these two New Testament references to glossolalia. With the first mentioned in Acts 2, intelligible languages were heard by all from other countries with other languages in spite of the fact that none of the speakers had knowledge of these languages beforehand. In the second reference in 1 Cor., ecstatic utterances rather than recognized languages emerged, therefore Corinthian glossolalia required an interpreter for its meaning to be understood. Both these cases are notable and vital, demonstrating differences between intelligible and unintelligible glossolalia. While these two types or forms of tongues have been studied extensively they seem to spark more questions than answers. Many have dealt with the spiritualistic versus the religious aspects of the two or the differences in states of consciousness, the most noteworthy, however, would be that of linguistic authenticity.
Major questions posed by social scientists in the twentieth century deal with the issue of the linguistic authenticity of glossolalia. More specifically, investigation has centered around the debate of whether glossolalia is a known language or even a language at all. Studies that enquired into whether or not tongues is an actual known language have been made famous by a social scientist by the name of Jeffery Anderson. Through one of his many experiments Anderson reported “that a group of government linguistics listened to a tape recording of the glossolalia of a man by the name of Harold Bredeson who claimed to speak in Coptic Egyptian in addition to Polish” (Cable & Manline, 1995). The group’s purpose in listening to the tapes of Mr. Bredson was to see if patterns from these languages appeared in his glossolalia. After close examination of the tape the linguistics found no resemblance to any language. His tongue speech was also analyzed by a conference of linguists in Toronto who have studied over 150 languages combined. They too concluded that it was “highly improbable that his glossolalia resembled any human language” (Toi & Batson, 1993), which could mean a possibility that he was faking it. But as we will see later that it is very easy for the linguists to spot gibberish from the glossolalia. A native French speaking person reached the same conclusion after studying a tape recording of tongues spoken by a Southern California glossolalic. The woman who received the gift claimed to speak in French through her tongues even though she had never studied the language. The conclusions reached by the French native were that the speech did indeed contain some French words but that the syntax was confused and meaningless. Another intriguing experiment completed by Anderson involved the recordings of over forty different cases of glossolalia.
Six linguists from graduate institutions in New York City studied these tapes but not one of them professed to hear a language that could be identified. Interestingly enough, however, all six easily spotted two recordings of “made-up gibberish” (Toi & Batson, 1993) that Anderson had slipped into the presentation. It is important to note, however, that there are counters to these conclusions. By simply stating the fact that there are over three thousand known languages it is obvious that not all of these could possibly be known by a single gathering of linguists. Moreover, one must bring forth the fact that there would be no way for analysts to be acquainted with all the dead languages that could be spoken in tongue speech and thus there is no way to be certain whether what is being spoken is in the fact a dead language. Be that as it may, it can with certainty be stated that there has been little or no confirmation of the claims that glossolalics have spoken in modern languages currently being spoken today, which gives further confirmation that an outer force could be speaking through these people.
The question of whether glossolalia is an actual language is related to, but distinct from, the issue of whether glossolalia is a know language. In the most general sense, the term language refers to “a group of signs or symbols (vocabulary), that are used according to a set of rules (grammar), in certain prescribed relationships (syntax)”(Baron & Byrne, 1991). Although most tongues speakers would not claim that they are speaking some foreign language they are unfamiliar with, all would most likely insist that they are speaking a language. Many have also pointed to incidents in which someone had interpreted their exclamations implying that meaning was being communicated in some sense. They would claim that the miracle was not that the language they were speaking was a foreign tongue they had never studied, but that their voices were being utilized by God to speak a heavenly language and that he had given another person the gift to understand it. The issue needing addressing is therefore whether this speech shows the characteristics of language, such as vocabulary, grammar, or syntax. But it should be recognized that those who are faithful practices of glossolalia may not be convinced by such an analysis and may insist that if glossolalia is God’s language, there is no reason to suppose that it has to follow the rules of human language. Be that as it may however, the experimental evidence supporting tongues as a language is strong. Longitudinal studies that have been made, along with comparisons among individuals, do suggest there is a consistency within each person’s speech. Although there is a “tendency among English-speaking persons to speak in tongues that sound like romance language derivatives, there is a uniqueness to each individuals tongue, which can be heard and identified by glossolalics themselves” (Myers & Biocca, 1984). In other words, a vocabulary does seem to be operative. It has also been concluded that the principle feature that distinguished glossolalia from gibberish was the number of phonological (linguistic) units at various levels. Glossolalics do not therefore speak in a mixed up gibberish type fashion. Thus, glossolalics are speaking what appears to be a language with grammar, syntax and vocabulary.
With the apparent evidence demonstrating that glossolalia is a language how then do these individuals learn such a language? Do people who exhibit the gift have something in common mentally or psychologically, such as a disorder or mental illness? Many social scientists today would say no, however it has long been believed that those who expressed themselves in this fashion were strongly delusional.
Glossolalia has long been considered abnormal and those who practice have been thought to be mentally ill. A great American psychologist by the name of William James spoke for many academicians at the beginning of this century when he proposed that psychopathic temperament was often present in religious leaders.
Although he did not mention glossolalia by name it was understood that through his writings he would declare that spiritual excitement of the type seen in speaking in tongues “takes pathological forms whenever other interests are too few and the intellect too narrow” (Toi & Batson, 1993). It was in his opinion that such fanaticism occurred when there was an imbalance or deficient intellect and ones interests were too limited. Although these presumptions have been widespread, continuing to many beliefs today, the evidence for them is weak or nonexistent. There have been to date many experiments completed on the psyche of those who possess the gift of tongues. Conclusions have come nothing short of abolishing such earlier ideas of the mental states of glossolalics. One study done by a group of social scientists in Toronto revealed a shocking discovery in which the mental intelligence of glossolalics compared to those who do not speak in tongues, was increasing and substantially higher than their counter parts. The study also revealed that the majority of glossolalics scored relatively lower on depression compared to the mean. The most significant finding of the research is therefore that glossolalics are no more mentally ill or abnormal than the rest of the population, but in fact might be considered mentally healthier due to the lower depression scores. The weight of the evidence seems to be that speaking in tongues does not occur, if it ever did, in people who are mentally ill in any clinical sense of the term. Quite clearly, the available evidence requires that an explanation of glossolalia as pathological must be discarded.
With the ever-growing popularity of glossolalia among religious believers today, it is no wonder why the number and diversity of experiments has more than doubled in the last fifty years. It seems that we have just begun to touch on the many aspects and questions that this mysterious language entails. The origins or beginnings of the first occurrences and the different forms the gift can take were the focus of many of the first enquiries into glossolalia. The written Biblical tradition spoke of a great gift of language in which no interpreter was needed and all sounds were intelligible in many different languages. Since these Biblical times, no proven cases of glossolalia expressed this way have since been found, however, this does not diminish the authenticity or importance of such cases. Unintelligible glossolalia, however, has since flourished and today millions claim to possess the gift. Whether it is expressed alone in one’s solitude or publicly, such as a church, unintelligible tongues have more recently than ever erupted as an ever- growing phenomenon. As a result, more and more studies have been conducted on unintelligible glossolalia and new findings are continually being brought forth to our attention. Although the proof of tongues as a known human language is minimal and weak if not inexistent, the hope still exists that such proof could arise. With over three thousand know languages to date and many which have been pronounced dead, the possibility of verification of such authenticity is still hopeful. The issues that surround the authenticity of tongues as a language nonetheless have been more than favorable. To determine the legitimacy of a language one assesses its components, such as vocabulary, grammar and syntax. By applying such techniques glossolalia has now plunged a step forward into a new and more propitious category of a language.
Another leap forward for glossolalia and believers a like, would most certainly be the new found facts on the mental states or the psychopathology of those who possess the gift. As past history has confirmed, persons who choose to express tongues publicly were ridiculed, scoffed at and diagnosed as abnormal and mentally ill. Even today such stereotypes of glossolalics remain strong. The results of the psychological and psychophysical testing not only brought back the respect of the sanity of those who speak in tongues, but also lifted them up and portrayed them as more intelligent and less depressive than the mean. With such statistics it is a shame that many glossolalics still hide the fact they have received this gift, many do so in part because of fear of ridicule or jeer. This gives us another fact to support that glossolalia is a true phenomenon and not a figment of their imagination. Or possibly many choose not to come forward or reveal this aspect of their life because it is the intimate personal relationship with the Almighty that truly matters to them. The delight of communication with him and the individual practices of the moment is what legitimately exemplifies the experience. It need not be shared or expressed to others because perhaps it can’t be, perhaps it genuinely is ineffable. Regardless of how or if one chooses to convey their gift, we must remember to look objectively at all aspects that encompass such a phenomenon and try not to be judgmental or close minded, for neither will reveal truth.
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