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Young Pentecostals praying and engaging in glossolalia (speaking in tongues) at the Center of Fait Emanuel of Assemblies of God in Cancun, Mexico

glosso- +‎ -lalia, from Ancient Greek γλῶσσᾰ (glôssa, tongue; language) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *glōgʰs) + λᾰλῐᾱ́ (laliā́, talking; form of speech, dialect) (from λᾰ́λος (lálos, talkative) + -ῐ́ᾱ (-íā, suffix forming feminine abstract nouns)).



glossolalia (plural glossolalias)

  1. Speaking a language one does not know, or speaking elaborate but apparently meaningless speech, while in a trance-like state (or, supposedly, under the influence of a deity or spirits); speaking in tongues. [from late 19th c.]
    • 1972 September, William J. Samarin, “Sociolinguistic vs. Neurophysiological Explanations for Glossolalia: Comment on Goodman’s Paper”, in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, volume 11, number 3, Blackwell, ISSN 0021-8294, JSTOR 1384556, OCLC 57197167, page 293:
      But glossolalia by definition makes no such sense, because it consists of strings of syllables, made up of sounds taken from all those that the speaker knows, put together more or less haphazardly but emerging nevertheless as word-like and sentence-like units because of realistic, language-like rhythm and melody.
    • 1982, Felicitas D. Goodman; Jeannette H. Henney; Esther Pressel, “Chronology of Events”, in Trance, Healing, and Hallucination: Three Field Studies in Religious Experience, Malabar, Fla.: Robert E. Krieger Pub. Co., ISBN 978-0-89874-246-6, LCCN 80020043, OL 8272012M, page 301:
      Lorenzo is still kneeling at the box, once more Luisa wipes her eyes, Violeta is sobbing and rocking, her glossolalia now at the -sə-sə-sə-level of near exhaustion.
    • 2012, Andy Martin, “Text Messenger”, in Literary Review, London: The Literary Review & Quarto, ISSN 0144-4360, OCLC 633283688, page 404:
      Everything was a labyrinthine amalgam of languages, a towering Babel of puns and glossolalia.
  2. Xenoglossy (knowledge of a language one has never learned).

Usage notes[edit]

Some writers distinguish glossolalia from xenoglossy, taking the former to mean roughly “speaking a language one does not know” and the latter to mean roughly “knowledge of a language one has never learned”. Others do not distinguish the two, using the terms interchangeably or using one term exclusively. When in doubt, it may be preferable to preserve this distinction, and/or to explain what one means when using each term.

Derived terms[edit]


Further reading[edit]