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Glossolalia and the Problem of Language$
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Nicholas Harkness

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780226749389

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226749556.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Glossolalia and the Problem of Language

Nicholas Harkness

University of Chicago Press

This book is a study of glossolalia and its problematic relation to language. Using ethnographic data from South Korea, where Christians across Protestant denominations regularly speak in tongues, the author aims to explain how and why an experience of language is produced through processes of its own negation. In contemporary Christian traditions of speaking in tongues, glossolalia is an explicitly linguistic type of involvement with the deity. Glossolalia is culturally intelligible as a kind of speech because its speech forms are unintelligible—denotationally unintelligible. Christian speech behavior becomes glossolalia when it suppresses the denotational function of language, targeting and rupturing the semantico-referential processes that link linguistic forms to denotata. The causes of glossolalia are complex, but its most obvious effect can be put simply. While many recognize glossolalia as an act of saying, few can answer the question, “What is being said?”

Keywords:   glossolalia, language, South Korea, Protestantism, speaking in tongues, denotation, speech behavior

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