Secret languages (also called cants or cryptolects) are languages devised by minority groups (travelers, criminals, youth, workers, entertainers, etc.) to confuse, mislead, and exclude others not in that specific in-group. Even though they may be derived from a majority language or languages, they are unintelligible to the majority language(s) speakers.
After evolving in the 19th century in the Russian partition among Polish inmates, Grypsera, a secret criminal language, is constantly evolving so only select criminals (not wardens or informants) can understand it. Its basis is Polish but it is also influenced by Yiddish, German, Ukrainian, and Russian, and heavily impacted by regional Polish dialects.
But Grypsera is more than just a language, it is a code of conduct regulating the behavior of the criminals. Both are enveloped in secrecy and evolve differently from prison to prison, as necessary to retain its secrecy.
Tutnese (Double Dutch) is a linguistic game used by children in English to converse in privacy from adults. But, originally, it was created by black slaves in the American south to teach their children spelling and to conceal speech.
Click or tap on the image to the left for Tutnese examples!
A pop cultural phenomenon in the Philippines in the early 2000s, Jejemon (composed of “jeje” the Spanish equivalent of “hehe” and -mon a shorthand for monster borrowed from Pokémon) is considered a “hipster” language that originally developed from shorthand text messages derived from English, Filipino (Tagalog), and Taglish.
It uses a mix of the Roman alphabet, Arabic numbers, and other special characters to create words by rearranging letters in a word, alternating capitalization, and overusing the letters H, X, and Z. Surprisingly, information security experts find it useful in creating strong passwords for user logins.
There are 4-levels of being a Jejemon:
Mild: eow~ p0Wh HOw zaRezu
– How are you?
Moderate: EOW p0wh~ hoW~ zAreZu~ iTZ beEN A loNG tym~ SincE weVE SeEn eAcH othEr~
– Hello, how are you? It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other.
Severe: GUDpM~ p0Wh. hoW ZaREZu~ 2nYT, n0H? itz alReADY 3 m nd u zAREzstLl aWKe JEJEJe p0wh.~ U sHoUld SleEp~ alrEADY~ BeCauSe iT iz l8~ jeJejeJEje~
– Good evening. How are you tonight? It’s already 3am and you are still awake. You should sleep already because it is late.
Terminal: EOW P0WH THeRe~ P0wh. NicE MEEtNg u~ JEjEjeje~ p0Wh. WTZ Ur nME, N0H?~ H0W ZarezU 2dAy JeJeje DO U THnk~ thAt~ we~ ShOuld~ Go sOMEwER, n0H?~ ur GoiNg 2 go aLREaDY,~ n0H? nicE~ mEETnG~ u JejejEjEJEJejE
– Hello there. Nice meeting you. What is your name? How are you today? Do you think that we should go somewhere? You’re going already? Nice meeting you.
Šatrovački, initially a secret language developed by criminals in Yugoslavia (and incomprehensible to the police), has today become widespread as informal speech among youth in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. Words are formed by replacing syllable order, such as: pivo (beer) becomes vopi.
Click or tap on the image to the right for Šatrovački examples!
Hijra Farsi is a secret language spoken in marginalized transgender (hijra) communities in North India and Pakistan. The name does not come from any linguistic relation to Farsi, but the belief that the language is related to the Mughal Empire (established in parts of India by a Muslim dynasty in the 1500s) where the hijra identity originated. Hijra Farsi is similar to Hindi but unintelligible to Hindi speakers and has no written script.
The hijra consider it important to keep their language a secret since it is the only way they can protect themselves and their marginalized community from the outside world. They will even tell outsiders that they are speaking a regional dialect rather than reveal they are speaking Hijra Farsi.