The Secret Languages and Their Speakers in Turkey

Melike Üzüm (Baskent University/ Johannes Gutenberg University)
Nurettin Demir (Hacettepe University, Turkey)
Speakers: Melike Üzüm, Nurettin Demir
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
COMELA 2022 General Session


The secret languages are of great importance in various aspects such as the history, culture, and language contact in the region where they are spoken. Referring to Turkey’s history, it is seen that Turkey has a multi-cultural community remaining from the Ottoman Empire. Although this cultural mosaic united under Turkish, it has been protected in architecture for many years and culturally. Additionally, Turkey has adopted the one nation one language policy, secret languages can be considered the remnants of this multilingual structure. While they can be evidence of the languages spoken in the region linguistically, they are also important for the preservation of the cultural characteristics of the ethnic groups and the continuity of the language.

In this study, we investigate the emergence of secret languages and their speakers in Turkey. For a language to be considered a secret language, it is accepted as a criterion to have independent grammar and vocabulary. In this framework, the secret languages spoken in Turkey will be evaluated in general, and with examples from fieldwork, why the speakers need these languages, their usage areas, the speakers’ definitions of identity, and how they are ascribed by the dominant group will be emphasized. We collected the data through ethnographic fieldwork and literature review (see Caferoğlu 1943; Tietze 1991; Demir & Üzüm 2018). The use of languages, the approaches of the speakers to the language, and the situations in which they need a secret language was determined using a survey conducted on the speakers and participant observation.

As a result of the analysis, we conclude that these languages are spoken by ethnic groups that are collectively called semi-nomadic. In addition to the use of the language as the mother tongue, they speak as a secret language among the major community in the markets, police stations, etc. Regarding the ascribing of speakers, the internal and external nomenclature are different mostly.

Caferoğlu, Ahmet 1943. Anadolu ağızlarından toplamalar. Kastamonu, Çankırı, Çorum, Amasya, Niğde Ilbaylıkları, kalaycı argosu ve Geygeli yörüklerinin gizli dili. Ankara.
Tiezte, Andreas 1991. Die Abdal -Reste eines verschwundenen Volkes?. Ural-altaische Jahrbücher, N. F. 10, 71-84.
Demir, Nurettin& Üzüm, Melike. 2018. Some remarks on the Poshas of Çankırı. In: Linguistic Minorities in Turkey and Turkic-speaking Minorities of the Peripheries, Turcologica 111, Edited by Christiane Bulut. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 73-88.

Keywords: secret languages, minorities, multilingualism, Turkey