Double Talk: The Secret Language of Twins

Even inside the womb, twins start to play and form their own bond that is unlike any other when it comes to language.

With the recent innovations in imaging technology, we can now watch twins in utero, and it seems they not only sense each other, they actually start to engage and communicate. This makes their personal evolution into self-other awareness very special.

Twins have long been the subjects of fascination for scientists of all types, from geneticists to psychologists, because even two individuals with the same raw material often develop into very unique humans. But linguists in particular are keenly interested in a phenomenon, referred to as cryptophasia, or a secret language that twins develop exclusively between themselves.

Twins have the novel experience of having a pre-verbal partner, a perfect match as it were, in their language acquisition. They start with simple babble, experimenting with sound, and then they begin to attach definitions to things. Want to see it in action? Check out these adorable little guys’ demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JmA2ClUvUY.

In its most extreme form, cryptophasia is a response to lack of verbal attention from parents and caregivers, and twins will create what is called iddioglosia, a language that only a few people can understand. The twins become a closed loop, so to speak, no longer relying on outside signifiers, instead choosing to create sounds and associate them with objects or actions.

However, if you are seeing your twins making up words you don’t understand, this is not an indicator that you are neglecting your children. About 50% of twins will develop this language and some twins will continue to use it, while others will abandon it once they are fluently speaking. Some of them even manage to use that skill to talk privately in public1. Matthew and Michael Youlden managed to parlay that skill into ninja-like language acquisition, learning 10 different languages! You can see them talking about their secret language here: https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/twins-secret-languages.

Child psychologists note that this language often arises from a speech delay in one twin, where the other twin mimics the sounds of his or her sibling2. Parents should monitor speech with twins to ensure that they are not reinforcing each other’s mistakes, and because twins on average develop language a little slower than singles, it’s fine for them to have this means of private communication provided they are also communicating easily with their parents and peers.

When you think about the implications of this, it’s really a testament to human creative ability and raw predisposition to make symbols, to make meaning, and to share it. In the same way that young people develop slang, or a dialect makes its way across a continent, “twinnish” reflects a really basic urge toward communication. As long as twins are steadily building vocabulary and improving on pronunciation, this secret language can be a great creative tool and bonding element for twins.

 

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3434134
  2. http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/genetic/twin7.htm

 

 

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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