Glossolalia or speaking in tongues is the fluid vocalizing (or less commonly, the writing) of speech-like syllables which lack any readily comprehended meaning, in some cases, as part of religious practice.The significance of glossolalia has varied in context, with some minorities considering it as a part of a sacred language.
The vocal organs of the speaker are affected; the tongue moves, in many cases without the conscious control of the speaker; and generally unintelligible speech pours forth. Speakers and witnesses may interpret the phenomenon as possession by a supernatural entity, conversation with divine beings, or the channeling of a divine proclamation. Various psychological interpretations have attempted to explain glossolalia scientifically as an unconsciously suggested behaviour arising from participation in a mass religious gathering.
Speaking with tongues in the early Church had limited practical value. Therefore, the Apostle Paul saw the need of laying down certain rules governing the use of this gift of the Spirit in the Church. These rules are found in 1 Corinthians 14. If contemporary glossolalia is a blessing of the Lord, we would naturally expect it to function in accordance with these rules.
1. First Corinthians 14:5, 27, 28. Tongues-speaking is only edifying in the Church if it is interpreted. "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the Church." Note from the context that Paul includes both speaking and praying in tongues in this rule.
2. Most tongues-speaking today is not interpreted as enjoined by Paul.
3. First Corinthians 14:22. "Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not."
Glossolalics behave in various ways, depending on the social expectations of their community. Some go into convulsions or lose consciousness; others are less dramatic. Some seem to go into a trance; some claim to have amnesia of their speaking in tongues. All believe they are possessed by the Holy Spirit and the gibberish they utter is meaningful. However, only one with faith and the gift of interpretation is capable of figuring out the meaning of the meaningless utterances. Of course, this belief gives the interpreter unchecked leeway in "translating" the meaningless utterances. Nicholas Spanos notes: "Typically, the interpretation supports the central tenets of the religious community" (Spanos, 147).
When spoken by schizophrenics, glossolalia are recognized as gibberish. In charismatic Christian communities glossolalia is sacred and referred to as "speaking in tongues" or having "the gift of tongues." In Acts of the Apostles, tongues of fire are described as alighting on the Apostles, filling them with the Holy Spirit. Allegedly, this allowed the Apostles to speak in their own language but be understood by foreigners from several nations.
An analysis of the use of Pentecostal glossolalia reveals that the speaker manipulates linguistic variables with considerable delicacy in response to role, & the purpose & setting of the speech act. Glossolalia is an additional linguistic code in the Pentecostal's repertoire. It functions to define & express the domain of religious experience; it is the Pentecostal's best religious language.
It is concluded that non-Christian glossolalia is mainly an Old World phenomenon especially prevalent in Africa, Indonesia, Malaya & Siberia; that spirit language, xenoglossia, & interpretation of tongues are especially subject to learning; & glossolalia is infrequent in both Christian & non-Christian religions, but is most often found in religions which have spirit possession & inspirational shamans.
Glossolalia (ecstatic vocalization) occurs not only in Christian religions, as is well known, but also in non-Christian religions. Various types of glossolalia & incidence in non-Christian religions of the Old & the New World are described: (1) the language of spirits ('dialect' known only to spirits & to shaman who speaks it); (2) sacerdotal language (like language of spirits but containing obsolete words preserved by a priestly class); (3) animal language (reproduction of animal sounds); (4) phonations frustes (miscellaneous sounds & syllables); (5) xenoglossia (speaking foreign languages); & (6) interpretation of tongues (translation of glossolalia).
Glossolalia occurs as an individual or a group phenomenon after which the speaker & the persons around him feel good, what is explained psychodynamically as a regression upon early developmental levels. In this temporary regression there is an explanation of positive, almost psychoterapeutic effect of glossolalia.
Sense, meaning & function of glossolalia are closely connected with social & cultural context, & therefore glossolalia is experienced as a normal & expected behavior in religious prayer groups, while in mental disorders it is considered a psychopathological symptom
Glossolalia occurred among adherents of various ancient religions, including some of the ancient Greek religions. There are references to ecstatic speech in the Hebrew Bible (1 Samuel 10:5–13, 19:18–24; 2 Samuel 6:13–17; 1 Kings 20:35–37), and in Christianity it has occurred periodically since the early years of the church. During later church history, glossolalia occurred in various groups, most notably during various Protestant revivals in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These revivals resulted in the establishment of many Pentecostal churches in the U.S.; subsequent missionary activity spread Pentecostalism worldwide by the early 21st century. In modern times, speaking in tongues was an occasional occurrence in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and other more-established Christian denominations. It was also present in many non-Christian traditions.
Glossolalia, translated literally from the Greek, means "tongue speech." It is a form of unintelligible vocalization which has nonsemantic meaning to the speaker, & is interpreted in the Bible as a divinely inspired spiritual gift.