Department of Music Colloquium

Presenter: Nick Harkness
Location: 32 Waverly Place, Room Silver 320

“Glossolalia and Cacophony in South Korea"


In Christian traditions of glossolalia ("speaking in tongues"), speech-like behavior without discernible denotation is taken to be an explicitly linguistic form of involvement with deity. This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork on glossolalia in settings of fervent, cacophonous group prayer in South Korea to delineate some salient phonic and sonic processes through which glossolalia suppresses "normal" linguistic functions while reinforcing ideological commitments to language itself.


Nicholas Harkness is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. He specializes in the ethnographic study of communication and cultural semiosis. His research in South Korea has resulted in publications on various topics, including language, music, religion, kinship, liquor, and the city of Seoul. His book, Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea (University of California Press, 2014), was awarded the Edward Sapir Book Prize by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (American Anthropological Association). A number of his papers have been devoted to developing an anthropological approach to "qualia." These papers incorporate the innovations of contemporary semiotics into the ethnographic theorization of sensuous social life. Harkness is currently writing a book about glossolalia ("speaking in tongues").