Either you know a set of twins, or you’re one half to a twin pair yourself. Regardless, you’ve probably heard stories of your local twins speaking in their own language as kids. Maybe you and your twin still have this language years later into adulthood. Twin psychology has been a hot topic of study for a really long time, and language is no different. So in the eyes of science, outside the land of anecdotes; do twins have a secret language?
Do Twins Have a Secret Language?
So yes, it turns out twins and secret languages are an observable phenomenon. And as you’ve probably guessed from the subtitle, it’s referred to as cryptophasia. Honestly though, after directly translating the word, it seems like too general of a term. Splitting the word into its two Greek parts, you get “secret language”. The implication would be that cryptophasia also applies to people who aren’t twins, but there isn’t enough documentation to really support that.
However, as a side note, there is idioglossia–which is kind of a more general cryptophasia. This roughly translates to “personal tongue”.
But back to cryptophasia–it’s not too uncommon with young twin pairs, hovering somewhere around 50%. So we guess if you ever find twins you can flip a coin to see if they have a secret language or not. We don’t recommend throwing a quarter at your friends or siblings, however.
How Do Secret Languages Develop?
It’s more or less likely that twins develop their own little languages as a result of learning how language works. The languages developed between twins tends to take the form of simple noise expressions, or even neologisms. Because cryptophasia is generally associated with younger children, the languages are constrained by the noises younger children can make–and as such tend to be distorted forms of their parent language. By parent language we mean the language the kids are exposed to most–kind of like how babies babble differently depending on their parent’s language.
However, these languages seem to have some kind of logic and structure. Granted, anyone who isn’t in on it won’t be able to understand whatever logic goes into constructing the language. As far as observation goes, we can’t say more about how it comes about other than “kids trying to mimic the adults around them.”
Is There a Cause for Cryptophasia?
Almost ironically, cryptophasia is generally associated with a delay in language development skills in children. It’s a pretty logical conclusion, though. Remember that the language shared by twins does not have to follow the phonology or structure of any language that we speak. Since the twins can communicate with each other using this language, they will have a bit less of a need to develop language skills as quickly.
There seem to be ties with language exposure as well–which also makes sense. If twins aren’t exposed to their parents’ language all that much, they’re going to end up making their own.
You might also like: Facts About Sign Language
The Story of the Silent Twins
June and Jennifer Gibbons may by the most common case of “secret twin languages” people bring up. They were the only black children in their local community, so they spent a lot of their time in isolation from others. To put into perspective how bad it was, they eventually started getting dismissed early from school on the daily so they wouldn’t be bullied as much.
June and Jennifer would eventually stop talking to anyone else, with the exception of their younger third sibling. Over time, their actions and idiosyncrasies would grow to mirror each other.
Eventually therapists would try and get the pair to open up, since both June and Jennifer refused to learn how to read or write in school. These attempts would prove futile; the pair were later sent to two separate boarding schools. That didn’t fly over so well either, since they became catatonic as a result of their separation.
There would one day be a reunion, and the two would start getting into creative writing. These stories would revolve around (generally) criminal behavior. Down the line both June and Jennifer would get into crime, from vandalism and theft to arson. Kind of as you would suspect, they were institutionalized as a result. June blames their institutionalization on her and her sister’s selective muteness, which was probably the case–they were pumped full of anti-psychotics; leading to neurological disorders.
The twins also had an agreement that if one of them died; the other would resume a normal life and speak normally. Eventually the twins became convinced that one of them had to die; Jennifer would later die as a result of heart inflammation–though what caused it remains a mystery. Today, June Gibbons lives a relatively quiet and independent life in West Wales.
Want more twin shenanigans? Check out some TV twins here.