From Academic Kids

Glossolalia [from the Greek, "γλώσσα" (glossa), tongue and "λαλώ" (lalô), to speak] comprises the utterance of what appears (to the casual listener) either as an unknown foreign language, or as simply nonsense syllables; the utterances sometimes occur as part of religious worship (religious glossolalia).

Certain Christians (see below) regard the act of speaking in tongues, as a gift of God through the Holy Spirit—one of the Gifts of the Spirit. Other religions also use glossolalia as a component of worship.

From a linguistic point of view, the syllables that make up instances of glossolalia typically appear to be unpatterned reorganizations of phonemes from the primary language of the person uttering the syllables; thus, the glossolalia of people from Russia, Britain, and Brazil all sound quite different from each other, but vaguely resemble the Russian, English, and Portuguese languages, respectively. Linguists generally regard most glossalia as lacking any identifiable semantics, syntax, or morphology—i.e., as nonsense and not as language at all.


Christian view of speaking in tongues

Tongues in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the book of Acts recounts how "tongues of fire" descended upon the heads of the Apostles, accompanied by the miraculous occurrence of speaking in languages unknown to them, but recognizable to others present as particular foreign languages. Not only their peers, but also anyone else in the room who spoke any other language, could understand the words that the Apostles spoke. Acts 2 described the phenomenon in terms of a miracle of universal translation, enabling people from many parts of the world speaking many different languages to understand them. This Biblical case exemplifies religious xenoglossia, i.e., miraculously speaking in an actual foreign language that the speaker does not know. Some of the Orthodox hymns sung at the Feast of Pentecost, which commemorates this event in Acts, describe it as a reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel as described in Genesis 11. In other words, the languages of humanity were differentiated at the Tower of Babel leading to confusion, but were reunited at Pentecost, resulting in the immediate proclamation of the Gospel to people who were gathered in Jerusalem from many different countries. Elsewhere in the New Testament Paul describes the experience as speaking in an "unknown tongue" (1 Cor 14:14-19) and discourages simultaneous speaking in tongues lest unbelievers think the assembled brethren "mad" (1 Cor 14:23, 27). Many Pentecostal groups teach that speaking in tongues is not exclusively xenoglossia.

Contemporary Christian glossolalia

Some Christians have claimed that they have witnessed, or personally engaged in, soi-disant "speaking in tongues". These claims have particular importance in the Pentecostal and in the Charismatic traditions. The belief that the gifts of the Apostles (Acts 2) continue to persist in the modern world forms a fundamental point of Pentecostal and Charismatic doctrine. In light of 1 Corinthians 14:2 and 14:14, both Pentecostals and Charismatics believe that speaking in tongues is a form of praying in the spirit.

Other Christians hold that this religious glossolalia comprises, at least in some cases, bona fide language inspired by the Holy Spirit: utterances in a language usually unknown to both the speaker and to the listeners. Yet other Christians hold that all, or almost all, modern glossolalia has bogus origins, neither divinely inspired nor language-based. This view is more typically held in the conservative Evangelical tradition.

Charismatic/Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians more readily agree that the original instances of Christian glossolalia, as reported in the book of Acts, exemplified bona fide instances of actual human languages.

Some Charismatic Christians identify three different activities that comprise "tongues". The "sign of tongues" refers to xenoglossia, in which listerners hear their native language by means of divine power. The "gift of tongues" refers to a belief that the Holy Spirit sometimes conveys a message through a believer engaged in gossolalia, which require an interpretation for those hearing. Lastly "praying in the spirit" refers to a believer engaged in glossolalia as a private prayer between the believer and God.

See also: Criticisms of Charismatic and Pentecostal belief, Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Non-Christian glossolalia

Aside from Christians, certain religious groups also have been observed to practice some form of glossolalia. Glossolalia is evident in the renowned ancient Oracle of Delphi, whereby a priestess of the god Apollo (called a sibyl) speaks in strange utterances, supposedly through the spirit of Apollo in her, but possibly related to high levels of natural gas present in spring waters beneath the temple. Glossolalia has also been observed in shamanism and the Voodoo religion of Haiti; it can often be brought on by the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs or entheogens such as Psilocybe mushrooms. Skeptics dismiss these cases as simply being in a state of trance, self-hypnotism or religious ecstasy. It is notable that in Charismatic/Pentecostal Churches there has been a state of heightened emotionalism. Certain Gnostic magical texts from the Roman period have written on them nonsense syllables like "t t t t t t t t n n n n n n n n n d d d d d d d..." etc. It is believed that these may be transliterations of the sorts of sounds made during glossolalia.

External links


Biblical references to speaking in tongues

  • Mark 16:17
  • Acts 2:4-15
  • Acts 10:44-48
  • Acts 2:4-15
  • Acts 19:2-6
  • 1 Corinthians 12:8-11
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1
  • 1 Corinthians 14:1-40de:Zungenrede

fr:Glossolalie ia:Glossolalia nl:Christelijke glossolalia pl:Glosolalia pt:Glossolalia fi:Kielilläpuhuminen


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools