Glossolalic speech predates Christianity and can be viewed as an ecstatic manifestation of performative utterance that overtakes the body. This ritualised, shamanic view of Glossolalia is not opposed to the sense of Glossolalia as gift of the Holy Spirit that is emphasised in modern forms of Pentecostal ‘speaking in tongues.’ This paper explores the tensions implicit in biblical reference to ‘tongues’ and their quality as another language. An issue at the heart of the event of speaking in tongues is translation, whether the implicit unknowing capacity of the words is actually the ‘gift’, and that consequent prayer for translation dilutes the experience of angelic language, or whether tongues must (due to biblical demand for intelligibility) be translated.
Moving through the work of De Certeau on Vocal Utopias, Deleuze and Stuttering, Derrida and the Gift, Benjamin and Translation, and Connor on Ventriloquism this paper locates the event of Glossolalic utterance as fundamentally untranslatable. The resistance to being understood implicit in Glossolalia indicates another mode of language, predicated on love, that is open to being tongue-tied, to chance and the failure that drives all attempts at translation.