Lesson #315: Anti-Language

While I was reading up on Boontling the other day, I accidentally also learned that anti-language is a thing. And since I find language interesting and Boontling is an anti-language (with a very, very interesting history; seriously, go check it out), I figured I’d embrace the broader lesson.

Basically, anti-language is any spoken dialect designed to keep outsiders, well, out. Cockney rhyming slang is probably the best known example of an anti-language, but my knowledge of the concept (without knowing that it was anti-language) is grypsera, which is a dialect of Polish used in the (Polish, obviously) prison system and has Russian, Ukrainian, German, and Yiddish influences.* Other well known examples are CB radio slang and the old thieves’ cant.

Anti-language should not be confused with a straight dialect.** Speakers of different dialects have a common starting point, but speakers of anti-language have designed their dialects to keep the average person out of the loop by speaking in a form of code. The anti-language often re-appropriates words from their common meaning to something else or borrow from other languages. Boontling borrows words from Gaelic; in grypsera, if someone is a “bat” it means he’s blind.

If you’re interested, the original article on anti-language, which was defined by M.A.K. Halliday in 1976, is available to read here.

*I have some very, very random knowledge bouncing around in my brain.

**For example, there’s a fairly significant difference between the French that I speak and the French my continental friends do, but we still speak the same language. What differs are the words we use for certain things. I use fin de semaine and magasiner for “weekend” and “shopping,” respectively, whereas they use the continental vernacular, which just happens to be English. But we also use different French words for the same thing (they use mec to mean “guy” where I use gars), while other times the same French word has different meanings depending on where you are (they use les gosses to mean “kids,” but that means something entirely different — testicles — in Canadian French). Also, and this has never made sense to me, stop signs in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France (as well, I imagine, as the French speaking parts of Switzerland) say “STOP.” In Quebec, they say “ARRÊT.”

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