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Chapter 2, Section 2

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., p. 121.

Is heaven really so complicated?

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