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Chapter 2, Section 1


Are the "tongues" of the glossolalists real languages, as they claim? The problem is to establish the exact meaning of the word.

Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second edition, gives the following definitions for the word "language":

1.a. "Audible articulate human speech as produced by the action of the tongue and adjacent vocal organs, b. The body of words and methods of combining words used and understood by a considerable community, esp. when fixed and elaborated by long usage.... 2. In the usual sense, language means a system of conventionalized signs, esp. words or gestures having fixed meanings."

Based on this standard definition, it becomes obvious that no matter where a language is spoken, to be classified as such it must be understood by a large number of people; it has to be of such uniformity that it can be learned; and consequently, it cannot be gibberish. "Not so!" says Howard M. Ervin of the Graduate School of Theology of the Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"’When we speak our native tongue, we speak the words that are in our minds, words that in choice, inflection, nuance, and color manifest our personalities. When we speak in ‘tongues,’ as the Holy Spirit gives utterance, we speak those words that are in the mind of the Spirit, words that manifest his personality unfettered by the censorship of the human ego. These words are, therefore, an exquisitely personal self-manifestation of the Holy Spirit."—Howard M. Ervin, "As the Spirit Gives Utterance," Christianity Today, April 11, 1969.

Harold Horton, a British tongues advocate, makes this emphatic statement:

"Then there is the notion abroad that tongues are a kind of gibberish, incoherent and nonintelligible, a series of uninterpretable glossal noises. No, tongues were and are languages. They are mostly unknown to the hearers and always to the speakers. But they might on occasion be known to the hearers, as at Pentecost, where the tongues were unknown as they were spoken and known as they were heard."—The Gifts of the Spirit (Bedfordshire, England: Redemption Tidings Bookroom, 1946), pages 159, 160.

In other words, glossolalists are thought to speak the language of the Holy Spirit; the language of heaven; or, as the charismatics like to express it, "the language of angels—the language used by the Holy Spirit for communication with God." Imagine! A holy language of such complicated nature that the human mind cannot grasp its syntax, grammar, or meaning; furthermore, a language granted only to those who are worthy of receiving it. Being a spiritual language of the high celestial beings, it is thought to be international—in fact, intergalactic, and therefore able to cross all known and unknown boundaries.

It is no wonder that the charismatics feel closer to God when using their unknown tongue, for the very idea of being a confidant of the Holy Spirit, having the chance to speak a language thus far reserved for the Spirit to communicate with God and the angels, is sufficient to put most people into a spiritual high.

What is ignored here by the charismatic enthusiasts is that the human questions regarding the unusual and confusing structure of these "tongues" remain unanswered.

Most Pentecostals and charismatics, when asked to describe their "tongue," term it "beautiful" and "exquisite." To them, it is not just an emotional experience but also an esthetic one. Because of this, judging it without having solid evidence to the contrary becomes a futile undertaking.

It is this "beautiful" and "exquisite" tongue that has become the subject of numerous investigations by prominent linguists, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, and others; and even though their professional approach usually differs, the overwhelming consensus of opinion is that the sounds that reach us via the charismatics are not languages at all.

Comparing voice samples

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