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An anti-language or cant is the language of a social group which develops as a means of preventing people from outside the group understanding it.[1] It may use the same vocabulary and grammar, but in an unorthodox fashion.

Examples of anti-languages include cockney rhyming slang, CB slang, the grypsera of Polish prisons, thieves' cant,[2] Polari,[3] and possibly Bangime.[4]


The concept was studied by the linguist M. A. K. Halliday who used the term for the lingua franca of an anti-society which is set up within another society, as a conscious alternative to it, and which indicates linguistic accomplishments of the users in action. According to Halliday, "metaphorical modes of expression are the norm".[5] He compiled a list of criteria for an anti-language.

  1. An anti-society is a society which is set up within another society as a conscious alternative to it.
  2. Like the early records of the languages of exotic cultures, the information usually comes to us in the form of word lists.
  3. The simplest form taken by an anti-language is that of new words for old: it is a language relexicalised
  4. The principal is that of same grammar, different vocabulary.
  5. Effective communication depends on exchanging meanings which are inaccessible to the layperson.
  6. The anti-language is not just an optional extra, it is the fundamental element in the existence of the “second life” phenomenon.
  7. The most important vehicle of reality-maintenance is conversation. All who employ this same form of communication are reality-maintaining others.
  8. The anti-language is a vehicle of resocialisation.
  9. There is continuity between language and anti-language.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robson, David. "The Secret "Anti-languages" You're Not Supposed to Know". BBC Future. Retrieved February 15, 2016. 
  2. ^ Martin Montgomery, "Language and subcultures: Anti-language", An introduction to language and society 
  3. ^ "Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men", Lancaster University. Department of Linguistics and English Language.
  4. ^ Bradley M, "The secret ones", New Scientist, 31 May 2014, pp. 42-45
  5. ^ Halliday (1975) pp. 570


  • Halliday, M. A. K. (1976) "Anti-Languages". American Anthropologist 78 (3) pp. 570–584