Transblawg has an entry about the secret language used in the German village of Frammersbach; the “language, known as Welschen, is probably hundreds of years old and was started by traders who didn’t want their agreements to be understood by others.” The interest lies not so much in the rather simple-minded form of Pig Latin used (“take the consonants from the beginning of a word and put them at the end, followed by an ä”) as in the fact that there are “a large number of similar secret ‘languages’ used in Germany”—and presumably elsewhere. There must be studies on this subject; I wonder how much deformation of the standard language or dialect is necessary to make sure outsiders don’t understand you?


  1. The other interesting point (for those who don’t know it) is the word Welsch meaning ‘foreign’.

  2. I can add this village to the territories of Greater Wales / Gaul / Galicia / Wallachia / Wallonia.

  3. This is rather similar to the secret language my friends and I used in lower secondary school (80s, Northern Bavaria, Germany): after each syllable-central vowel sound V insert lef+V. Obviously, this triples the syllable count, but we spoke very quickly and the communication wasn’t slowed down much.

  4. Sometimes it seems that no conscious deformation is necessary at all to make sure outsiders can’t understand you. Just regional pronunciations combined with unfamiliar expressions and speech rates.

  5. I agree with Ernesto, but I would take it one step further and say that jargon alone could be effectively employed as a system of exclusion (or inclusion, if you look at it in a more positive light). My question is, at what point does an encoded language become a “language” in its own right? Are we keeping the quotation marks on this one?

  6. I actually wrote a short essay on those for a phonology course during my BA studies. can’t remember much of it now, but it was certainly among the most fun things I did in Uni. I think it was Laycock who coined the term ‘Ludling’ for these secret languages, at least that is what I used.
    What makes them interesting is that when a speaker systematically moves a perceived phonological unit somewhere else, adds one, and so forth, some interesting things happen that can reveal the underlying structure of the language.
    Best of all, children can be quite fluent in these without neccessarily knowing how to read or write, so it’s not so much moving letters around as it is sounds.

  7. The corresponding Swedish language, the “fikonspråket” (fig language) transposes the syllables and adds fi- and -kon from ‘fig’. One of the more interesting things about this is that two current Swedish words evolved from this. Coffe, or having a cup of coffee, is informally ‘fika’: without transposition! kaffe (coffee) > fi-ka ffe-kon; fika fekon losing the last part becomes ‘fika’. Similarily, a cigarette butt, a “stump”, became, with transposition, fi-mp stu-kon, > ‘fimp’, now an in all sociological and whatever environments accepted and rather only word for a cig (colloquialism!) butt.

  8. Neat!

  9. About 12 years ago I was in grad school and very interersted in langauge games and secret languages. A couple of people in my family are very fluent in Pig Latin, and Bjorn’s ideas about moving phonological units around were very much in my mind.
    (Most descriptions of Pig Latin are pathetically inadequate–a real description of the dialect we speak involves stress-feet as units, rather than words.. poly-foot words are broken up into parts: “because” -> “eBay awes Kay”. I like that example because now it is a sentence in English. Some multi-word single-foot phrases can be “pigged” as a single unit: “Thank you” -> “Ankyou-thay”.)
    I had also just come across Stephen R. Anderson’s comments in A-Morphous Morphology about language games and the insights they provide into the kinds of phonological transformations that are possible but not necessarily diachronically evolvable.
    Anyway, as a result of this, I asked about this stuff on the Linguist List, and got quite a flood of responses. It took me a year to post a summary, and when I finally did a new smaller flood of information followed.
    Both summaries are still on the web:
    They contain both references and descriptions of language games and secret languages.

  10. A lot of Klingon language communication takes place over the internet. (I developed my fluency in online chatrooms). There are some electronic tools that can be used to decode written Klingon, untangling the grammar and giving notes on idioms from a database. This is of course “cheating” if you’re wanting to understand a conversation among people who have done the work to acquire the language. It was fun to see how easily skilled speakers could, with no prearrangement, swap a few sounds and continue conversation while completely stmiying the computer translation. I guess it’s similar to the human ability to recognize visually distorted words in order to prove we are not spambots.

  11. I am fascinated by rehctub klat, which requires that its speakers are literate, otherwise they would be unable to make up new words.

  12. If you are interested in receiving more information about “Welschen” visit this website: http://www.florian-ziem.de/welschen

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