Glossolalia is defined in the recent authoritative Encyclopedia
of Religion as
a practice of "nonordinary speech behavior that is institutionalized as a
religious ritual in numerous Western and non-Western religious communities." The
Greek term glossa means "tongue, language," and the verb laleo means "to
speak", thus the word glossolalia.
A renowned linguist who has studied Christian glossolalia extensively gave a similar definition, describing it as "a meaningless but phonetically structured human utterance believed by the speaker to be a real language but bearing no systematic resemblance to any natural language, living or dead." (William J. Samarin, Tongues of Men and Angels. The Religious Language of Pentecostalism (New York, 1972).
Glossolalia is a fairly recent phenomenon in the Christian world: "First wave", 1900: "speaking in tongues" was manifested in the traditional Pentecostal churches. "Second wave", 1960: neo-Pentecostalism or the charismatic renewal movement, "speaking in tongues" entered most traditional churches of Christianity including the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics and so on. "Third wave": the recent celebration church movement.
Speaking in tongues did not come about as a result of studying this subject in the Bible. Speaking in tongues just happened, then students subsequently studied the Bible to find support for this new phenomenon that took place in the meetings of Charles Parham of Bethel College in Topeka, Kansas in 1900.
Recent studies have indicated that glossolalia is not a uniquely Christian practice. Glossolalia is practiced by a large number of native non-Christian living religions around the world. Glossolalia is found amoung the "Inuit (Eskimos), The Saami (Lapps), in Japanese seances in Hokkaido, in a small cult led by Genji Yanagide of Moji City, the shamans in Ethiopia in the zar cult and various spirits in Haitian Voodoo. L. Carlyle May shows that glossolalia in non-Christian religions is present in Malaysia, Indonesia, Siberia, Arctic regions, China, Japan, Korea, Arabia, and Burma, among other places. It is also present extensively in African tribal religions.