Spuzhka kuprista. Grahaaalamana! Mulikusu manaritis tata. I brustu manisichi. Gremisoto lanis ticha. Skuurrman nana tata lili olo! Glossolalia!

Don’t recognize that language? Oh, come now. Analyze it morphologically. Look for structures that bespeak a syntax.

Look, people do this all the time! In states of ecstasy! Inspired by divine afflatus! Have you not heard of speaking in tongues?

No, I don’t mean the album by the Talking Heads.

See, on the original day of Pentecost, the apostles had tongues of fire land on them, and they spoke in foreign languages and were understood by those who spoke those languages. And now there is a tradition in some churches of speaking in tongues: people, moved by the spirit, reel off declarations just like the first paragraph above.

Ask them what it means. Ask anyone what it means. Find someone who understands it. Try not to be met with a glassy lolling gaze.

There is, certainly, one word up there that is analyzable: glossolalia. Fits right in, doesn’t it? But gloss is, like its alternate glott, from the Greek for “tongue”, and lalia is from a Greek word for “speaking” – or “babbling”: lalalalalala (note the difference in ancient Greek between baby babble, lalala, and foreign speech, barbarbar – as in barbarian). So it means “speaking in tongues” – or “babbling with your tongue”. Hence the American Heritage Dictionary definition, “Fabricated and nonmeaningful speech, especially such speech associated with a trance state or certain schizophrenic syndromes.”

One could probably extend it to include such things as songs that use made-up language-like syllables, such as several used in Cirque du Soleil shows; one could even include fake language that sounds like a real, identifiable language, such as Adriano Celentano’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol.”.

I’ll tell you this: glossolalia is a great word for it. It starts with that oral and shiny /gl/, and indeed the gloss here fits the meretricious fulgurence of its referent – it looks impressive, but at the heart of it is a loss. The olalia trips off the tip of the tongue, flapping it like the lingual fillip of a popular trollop (and perhaps suggesting that glossolalists have the doolally tap). There’s the hiss of the /s/ and then the liquid /l/s again, babbling like a brook, so lightly and insouciantly, ready to be sung or blathered abroad. All it really lacks is a trilled /r/.

But what is the value of it? I wouldn’t be the only person to call “speaking in tongues” into question. “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue [ah, intelligible, it has such a lovely sound to go with glossolalia, but the former has something the latter lacks], how will anyone know what you are saying? …Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning.” That (except for my bracketed comment) is from I Corinthians 14:9–10, by the apostle Paul. So, heck, if even he wasn’t for it, what is the value of it?

I’ll tell you what the value of it is for me. If I’m at home, by myself, and something frustrates me, rather than saying vile things, I simply spout glossolalia. So much nicer than coprolalia. Great phatic way of blowing off steam. Or blowing smoke, as the case may be.

2 responses to “glossolalia

  1. Pingback: latria | Sesquiotica

  2. Pingback: binder, bind, bound | Sesquiotica

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