What is glossolalia?

It’s speaking in tongues, a religious practice that makes some people feel closer to god, and other people feel deeply uncomfortable. Is it the language of angels, or a psychological artefact? And what can linguistics tell us about this manner of speaking?

Linguist Daniel Midgley suspends his disbelief on this episode of Talk the Talk.


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This week was about glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, and I just want to say that for a couple of atheist dudes, we gave the topic a pretty fair shake. We even tried a little glossolalia ourselves, though this was kind of unintentional, and we end up doing that at least once every time we do a taping.


Show notes

T.M. Luhrmann’s article
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/opinion/sunday/luhrmann-why-we-talk-in-tongues.html?hp&_r=1&

P.Z. Myers’ response
http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/08/19/glossolalia-is-not-god/

The audio clip is from here.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ4114XO-Xo

Glossolalia isn’t just a Christian thing, by the way.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/599257/glossolalia

but not all Christians are into it.
http://www.bible.ca/tongues-defend-manifestions.htm
http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Doctrines/Speaking%20in%20Tongues/demonic.htm

William Samarin’s pioneering linguistic study of glossolalia (PDF)
http://philosophy-religion.info/handouts/pdfs/Samarin-Pages_48-75.pdf

Dawn Heverly’s phonological study (PDF). People don’t use sounds not in their native language.
http://www.gmu.edu/org/lingclub/WP/texts/6_Heverly.pdf

Andrew Newberg’s brain scan study
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/health/07brain.html
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-10/uops-lco103006.php

“Holy Laughter”, if you’re into that. Note the falling down on cue.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wn6FF5nhTSs

A skeptical view from the great Skeptics’ Dictionary
http://www.skepdic.com/glossol.html

and another from the Skeptic Tank
http://www.skeptictank.org/files/fw/glossola.htm

A theologian’s view
http://www.frame-poythress.org/linguistic-and-sociological-analyses-of-modern-tongues-speaking-their-contributions-and-limitations/


Show tunes

‘Speaking in Tongues’ by Eagles of Death Metal
from the album Peace Love Death Metal

‘A Million Angels’ by Severed Heads
from the album Since the Accident