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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.167) Conclusion
Glossolalia and the Problem of Language

Nicholas Harkness

University of Chicago Press

The human throat is a narrow, muscular passageway with three critical functions: breathing, swallowing, and vocalizing. Students of human evolution since Darwin have observed that the anatomy of the human throat which made possible the human capacity for speech also seems to have increased the risk of choking. The throat—this miraculous bidrectional conduit of intercourse between the interior and the exterior—is an open system, always subject to interference and penetration despite its anatomical mechanisms of self-containment and defense. Closure is always temporary and unsustainable; full closure is mortal.The throat’s functional trinity materializes in glossolalia as the sensations of inhaling, drinking, and the flowing of speech. Glossolalia exploits the openness of the throat, extending from the throat’s functional anatomy, via speech, to the systemic openness of language itself. At the problematic core of glossolalia is the promise of language’s unique function: denotation. Glossolalia systematically suppresses denotation, focusing pragmatic energy on language’s ideological limits, and exposing as fragile any claims to language’s autonomy by revealing its inseverable semiotic continuity with the plenum of the social.

Keywords:   Evolution of the throat, Language as an open system, Transactional theology, Speech, Song, Prayer

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