Boom-shakalockalocka--boom shakalockalocka—ramalama ding dong—fee  fee-fy fy-fo fo fum—na na nana, na na nana hey hey hey—doowahdidhe—sha la la--day o umba day o mambu ji ay o--Iko iko, iko iko unday Jockomo feeno ah na nay Jockomo feena nay.

Even though Sly and the Family Stone or Dennis Edwards might come to mind—you don’t know these
songs and neither does anyone else. No, they are not some catchy Motown vamp or slick background in a doo-wop song—they are words.

Knowing that they are not part of a song but words, might make them seem like a bunch of nonsensical utterances, but not to charismatic Christian groups. It is called the “Gift of Tongues.” The gift of tongues gives some people the ability to speak in a language that others do not understand. In order to communicate, another person must possess the gift of interpreting tongues to translate the spoken “words” to others.

Scientifically, this phenomenon is “glossolalia.” Often “speaking in tongues” is accompanied by “holy dances” and what is commonly known as “falling out,” or being “overcome” by the spirit. To a majority of outsiders, the “words” spoken by those speaking tongues sound curiously like parts of songs and repetitious half-formed words.

Is there anything to this holy phenomenon? According to Dr. William T. Samarin, professor of anthropology and linguistics at the University of Toronto, glossolalia consists of strings of meaningless syllables made up of sounds taken from those familiar to the speaker and put together more or less haphazardly.[1],[2]

“Glossolalia is language-like because the speaker unconsciously wants it to be language-like. Yet in spite of superficial similarities, glossolalia fundamentally is not language,” Samarin said.

Perhaps, the “gotcha” in this spewing of gibberish is that only one with faith and the gift of interpretation is capable of deciphering the meaningless utterances, leaving a gaping hole for imagined” interpretations that seem to support the basic beliefs of the religious community.

There is a great deal of duplication in glossolalia. As a mini experiment, try reciting a large series of numbers haphazardly, or try to ‘speak in tongues’ by producing rapid, random speech. Chances are you will produce some sequencing and repetition. These factors support the idea that glossolalia is a conscious and artificial behavior.[3]

The same behavior is on display in every nightclub, joint or dump where live music plays and people participate in dancing, singing and generally, having a good time. On Sundays the only thing missing is cigarette smoke.

The bottom-line, “speaking in tongues” is not language any more than scat singing. It has as much meaning as Sly and the Family Stone’s boom-skakalockalocka or Jeffrey Osborne’s Woo-Woo song.

[1] The Skeptic’s Dictionary, Robert T. Carroll, glossolalia,

[2] Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2006, Vol. 148, No. 1, 22, pp. 67-71

[3] The Naked Skeptic, Singing in Tongues, Karen Stollznow,

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