Conferences/Seminars Medical/Technical Pentecostal Religion Science & Technology

Biology of Speaking in Tongues



Picture from New York Times

Critics deride it as fake, but new research shows that something authentic happens in the brain when someone speaks in tongues.

In 2006, a University of Pennsylvania team headed by Andrew B. Newberg found that the frontal lobe area of the brain usually associated with language skills and willful control of the body slips into low gear when someone engages in this form of ecstatic prayer.

“Our findings are very consistent with what people say they are feeling,” Newberg says. “That they are not in charge of what is happening and are experiencing an intense sense of themselves in relation to God.”

Newberg, a neuroscientist and co-author of Why We Believe What We Believe, a book on the biology behind belief, used neuroimaging to track blood flow to the brain. The study’s subjects were five women from the same Pentecostal church. They were measured twice: as they sang a gospel song and as they spoke in tongues.

The scans found that when the subjects spoke, the frontal lobe showed less blood flow and lower activity than it did during the singing.

Newberg previously examined Buddhist monks in meditation and Catholic nuns in prayer. Their brain scans showed that the frontal lobe lit up with more activity the exact opposite of the tongue-speakers.

Still, Newberg cautions against using the study as proof that God speaks to people through tongues.

“It talks about the biological reality of the experience. It does not address whether there is a supernatural reality,” he says. “That question is still left open.”

– By Kimberly Winston, Special for USA TODAY

By Shirley Buxton

Still full of life and ready to be on the move, Shirley at 81 years old feels blessed to have lots of energy and to be full of optimism. She was married to Jerry for 64 years, and grieves yet at his death in August of 2019. They have 4 children, 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren...all beautiful and highly intelligent--of course. :)

10 replies on “Biology of Speaking in Tongues”

Good morning, Greg. I’m going to be unavailable for much blog talking today, but before I leave the house I want to say a couple of things, then I’ll get back to this later. In the meantime, probably others will take up this timely conversation.

1. I don’t take offense at your asking questions and raising contrary opinions. I believe you are sincere and are asking out of a pure heart.

2. I did not print the article about the biology of speaking in tongues in order to validate or give credence to speaking in tongues. I merely found it interesting. I have had the Holy Ghost since I was 10 years old, and have regularly spoken in tongues since then, never considering the biological evidence of its validity. I’m convinced this experience is from God and is backed by His Word. In the book of John is an account of a blind man who was healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. The Pharisees disbelieved, were irritated, and quizzed the man who had been healed. He responded, (in essence) Not sure who this man was or how He did it. But I know this: I used to be blind, but now I can see.

Greg, I don’t know about the biology of speaking in tongues, but this I do know. When I was but a child, I received the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues. This gift of God is precious and dear to me.

3. I don’t understand you when you say “nor do I think it not real for you,” and also say, “there is a real possibility that the era of tongues is gone.”

4. It is common for people to confuse the initial infilling of the Holy Ghost, and the spiritual “gift of tongues” to which Paul was referring in some of the writings you quoted.

Back later.


Further – if we are to use science in an attempt to give credence to the conept of speaking in tongues – Science that refutes it should alos be given some place:

A Linguistic Study Contra-indicating Glossolalia as Real Language
William J. Samarin, a linguist from the University of Toronto, published a thorough assessment of Pentecostal glossolalia that became a classic work on its linguistic characteristics.[53] His assessment was based on a large sample of glossolalia recorded in public and private Christian meetings in Italy, Holland, Jamaica, Canada and the USA over the course of five years; his wide range included the Puerto Ricans of the Bronx, the Snake Handlers of the Appalachians, and Russian Molokan in Los Angeles.

Samarin found that glossolalic speech does resemble human language in some respects. The speaker uses accent, rhythm, intonation and pauses to break up the speech into distinct units. Each unit is itself made up of syllables, the syllables being formed from consonants and vowels taken from a language known to the speaker.

It is verbal behavior that consists of using a certain number of consonants and vowels[…]in a limited number of syllables that in turn are organized into larger units that are taken apart and rearranged pseudogrammatically[…]with variations in pitch, volume, speed and intensity.[54]

[Glossolalia] 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.[55]

That the sounds are taken from the set of sounds already known to the speaker is confirmed by others: Felicitas Goodman found that the speech of glossolalists reflected the patterns of speech of the speaker’s native language.[56]

Samarin found that the resemblance to human language was merely on the surface, and so concluded that glossolalia is “only a facade of language”.[57] He reached this conclusion because the syllable string did not form words, the stream of speech was not internally organised, and – most importantly of all – there was no systematic relationship between units of speech and concepts. Humans use language to communicate, but glossolalia does not. Therefore he concluded that glossolalia is not “a specimen of human language because it is neither internally organized nor systematically related to the world man perceives”.[57]

On the basis of his linguistic analysis, Samarin defined Pentecostal glossolalia as “meaningless but phonologically structured human utterance, believed by the speaker to be a real language but bearing no systematic resemblance to any natural language, living or dead”.[58]

Practitioners of glossolalia may disagree with linguistic researchers and claim that they are speaking human languages (xenoglossia). For example Ralph Harris, in the work Spoken By the Spirit published by Radiant Life/GPH in 1973, describes seventy five occasions when glossolalic speech was understood by others. (Scientific research into such claims is documented in the article on xenoglossia.)

[edit] Comparative linguistics
Felicitas Goodman, a psychological anthropologist and linguist, studied a number of Pentecostal communities in the United States, Caribbean and Mexico; these included English, Spanish and Mayan speaking groups. She compared what she found with recordings of non-Christian rituals from Africa, Borneo, Indonesia and Japan. She took into account both the segmental structure (such as sounds, syllables, phrases) and the supra-segmental elements (rhythm, accent, intonation), and concluded that there was no distinction between what was practised by the Pentecostal Protestants and the followers of other religions.[59]




You’ve posted here a couple of times abuot speaking in tongues – and I hope you all can accept that I mean you no disrespect, nor do i think it not real for you – but I seriously just don’t get it!

Paul wrote asking if we all spoke in tongues (th insinuatoin being that we don’t)

1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (New International Version – UK)
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

he also siad that (in public) he would rather speak a few words that made sense than lot’s that didn’t.

1 Corinthians 14:14-19 (New International Version – UK)
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.

16 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say Amen to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?

17 You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.

19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

To me it would apear that it isn’t for everyone, that there is a real possibility that the era of tongues is gone and that in any case it is not ot be sought after – but rather love and love alone is the most excellent way!


Great point when tied to, “This is the rest where by the weary are called to rest.” Part of our brain finds rest in His Spirit.

Just my thought;

A great thought.


God’s generosity in imparting his Holy Spirit to those who have faith in the saving grace of Jesus Christ is absolutely incredible. Our God has supplied our every need and lavished his love on us in unimaginable ways. The gift of speaking a God given language is one of his precious gifts. I can’t imagine negotiating life without this vital path of communication with my Father.

Thank you for this post.

Thank you for being here Morningjoy. Hope you return often.


…..and the PROMISE is unto YOU and YOUR children and as MANY as theLORD OUR GOD shall call. [Acts 2:39}



Isn’t it wonderful!!!! The Bible states positively this gift is for everyone!!!!!!

It is truly a wonderful thing. I just wish we were able to help people understand this wonderful gift can be theirs. Not a few people get confused by Paul’s writing concerning spiritual gifts ( that not everyone possesses) and the gift of the Holy Ghost that is available for everyone.


Hi Sister Buxton,

A couple of years ago, I did a post in which I put a link to an article about a scientific study that was done concerning people speaking in tongues. I have been blogging for almost 3 years now, and out of everything I posted, this post has come in 7th place for number of views. I think people are definitely interested in this phenomenon.

Carol, please comment again and insert the link to the article you wrote. As you have noted, people are interested in this powerful gift of the Holy Ghost.


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