Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #29  (original pub. date, Lion Magazine, 1990-5)


"Though I speak with the tongues of First Sergeants and of angels"

Standing in formation for roll call on a cold Berlin morning is an unlikely time for a supernatural manifestation, but, who knows? In the military, the drive for crispness in giving commands produces a variety of sounds that could charitably be called "humanoid barking". For example , "Attention!" becomes "ten-hut!" Now, elocution, electrocution, who cares; how many times did you not snap to, continuing to slouch there with your hands in your pockets and say, "Gee, sarge, don't the regulations require you to say 'Attention!'"? Sure.

Our local company dialect of "All present or accounted for!" usually came out something like, "Aaw-prehcowfaw!" A few days earlier, however, my dear friend, Preston, in what he later assured us was a slip of the tongue, had said, quite distinctly, "All present or absent!", starting a noble roll-call  tradition of oneupsmanship: When it's your turn, be a smart-ass.

Now it was my turn and I had racked my brain till cheery postcards from Amnesty International started to roll in, but it wasn't talking. Nothing. Then, I opened my mouth and it happened the experience I mentioned. I said: "Akul plab don fuh!" Akul plab don fuh? I was speaking in tongues! Sarge left me alone for the rest of the day, I think because I reminded him of the film earlier that week at the base theater: The Day the Earth Stood Still. Science Fiction fans will recall that a nonsense phrase, kla-atu barada nikto, was mysteriosly linked to the impressively destructive powers of a robotGlog, Gork, Something(I can't believe it: I've finally forgotten a totally useless fact!). Sarge was taking no chances that a hole in my forehead, too, would open and  a microwave death ray zap out and French-fry him to his ancestors.

Technically, speaking in tongues is called glossolalia: the uttering of unintelligble speechlike sounds produced in a state of religious exaltation. It is mentioned in the New Testament, notably in Mark 16:18: "In my name they shall speak with new tongues". However, there is also mention of Old Testament Hebrew prophets speaking in tongues, and the phenomenon was found among Greek and Roman oracles, as well. Today, it exists among the so-called "Whirling Dervishes" in Islamic Sufism and, in Christianity, glossolalia figures prominently in Pentacostal Protestantism and charismatic Roman Catholicism. Generally speaking, such utterances are simpler and more repetitive than "real" languages. Glossolalia is viewed by those who experience it as a very emotional and meaningful event, and by disinterested linguists as a kind of "pseudo-language," on the order of "scat-singing" in jazz or Walt Disney's, "salagadoola, mitchagaboola, bibbidy-bobbidy-boo".

It shouldn't be confused with "secret languages," such as Igpay Atinlay, or Cockney Rhyming Slang, in which, for example, "take a butcher's" means, "take a look," because "look" rhymes with "butcher's hook"! Nor is it the same as well thought out nonsense language, which in structure and sound is virtually the same as natural language. The best-known example of this is probably Lewis Carrol's "Jabberwocky":

'T was brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe/ All mimsy were the borogoves and the mome raths outgrabe.
Maybe I'll never know what came over me that morning. I don't recall any special feeling of grace or exaltation.  (Pretty much true of my entire tenure as a Spec. 4, really). But it has not left me alone all these years: Akul plab don fuh!  It is clearly not xenoglossolalia, the miraculous speaking of a known language, but one which you have never learned and could not possibly know. My sources tell me that "akul plab don fuh" means nothing anywhere on earth. I could be an extraterrestrial, but that would be difficult to prove. Maybe.

I once thought it was happening again around here, too. I dialed a number on base and heard someone say: "Navscormavstriksmormed!" This, I later found out, was natoglossolalia, a special, but not particularly beatific form of expression.

Ecstacy aside, glossolalia might come in handy; they say you can practice and get good at it. Think how much more satisfying it would be during a traffic show-down, when that oncoming car turns left in front of you and cuts you off, to be able to watch his face as you yell out the window something like "Gadardle bleng tommit sidim!" instead of a common "Up yours, Jack!"

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