|Comparing Voice Samples
After comparing many different voice
samples recorded under controlled conditions while charismatics
exhibited their "gift of the spirit," Eugene Nida, renowned
linguist of the American Bible Society, describing one specific
recording, gives this report:
"The types of inventory and
distribution would indicate clearly that this recording bears little
resemblance to any actual language, which has ever been treated by
linguists.… If then, it is not a human language, what is it? One can
only say that it is a form of ‘ecstatic speech.’… On the basis of
what I have learned about this type of phenomena of ‘tongues’ in
other parts of the world, apparently there is the same tendency to
employ one’s own inventory of sounds, in nonsense combinations, but
with simulated ‘foreign’ features. At least in West Africa and Latin
America, the types of glossolalia employed seemed to fit into this
description."—Cited by V. R. Edman, chancellor of Wheaten College
in "Divine or Devilish?" Christian Herald, May, 1964.
William Welmes, professor of African
languages at the University of California at Los Angeles, speaks out
even more frankly. Here is his statement: "And I must report
without reservation that my sample does not sound like a language
structurally. There can be no more than two contrasting vowel sounds,
and a most peculiarly restricted set of consonant sounds; these combine
into a very few syllable clusters which recur many times in various
orders. The consonants and vowels do not all sound like English (the
glossolaliac’s native language), but the intonation patterns are so
completely American English that the total effect is a bit
ludicrous." Christianity Today, Nov. 8, 1963.
Among linguists, there are few men who
are so eminently qualified to evaluate glossolalia as William Samarin,
professor of anthropology and linguistics at the University of Toronto.
After extensive research in this field for the first comprehensive study
of speaking in tongues, he has presented a linguistic analysis unequaled
in its thoroughness.
Says Samarin, after comparing all
phases of the phenomena: "There is no mystery about glossolalia.
Tape-recorded samples are easy to obtain and to analyze. They always
turn out to be the same thing; strings of syllables, made up of sounds
taken from among all those that the speaker knows, put together more or
less haphazardly but which nevertheless emerge as word-like and
sentence-like units because of realistic, language-like rhythm and
melody. Glossolalia is indeed like language in some ways, but this is
only because the speaker [unconsciously] wants it to be like language.
Yet in spite of superficial similarities, glossolalia is fundamentally not
language. All specimens of glossolalia that have ever been studied have
produced no features that would even suggest that they reflect some kind
of communicative system."-William J. Samarin, Tongues of Men and
Angels (New York: Macmillan, 1972), page 227.
Samarin also maintains that, based on
his all-inclusive investigation, he has ascertained that glossolalia has
no grammar because it is a phenomenon operating without a set of
rules which would enable another person to "learn" the
"language." What’s more—and here he is in agreement with
other scholars—"these transcriptions will always expose the
linguistic deviant nature of a glossolaliac’s discourse,
notwithstanding the charismatist’s claim that glossolalia is neither
repetitious nor meaningless banality."-Ibid., p. 78.
Significant is his comment on the fact that a person’s own linguistic
background influences the sounds he utters while speaking the
"language of the Holy Spirit."
"What is interesting about these
similarities as far as linguists and other social scientists are
concerned," he says, "is the all-pervasive influence of one’s
linguistic knowledge. A human being simply cannot avoid being influenced
by the patterns of language once he has acquired its use."—Ibid.,
heaven really so complicated?