Anti-language is an idea developed by the linguist M. A. K. Halliday. An anti-language is the language of a social group which develops as a means of preventing people from outside the group understanding it. It may use the same vocabulary and grammar, but in an unorthodox fashion. According to Halliday, "metaphorical modes of expression are the norm". Examples of anti-languages are cockney rhyming slang, the grypsera of Polish prisons, thieves' cant, and "Gayle", the secret language of the South African gay subculture.

Halliday uses the term “anti-language” 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. 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



  • Halliday, M. A. K. (1975) "Anti-Languages". American Anthropologist 78 (3) pp. 570—584
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