Rare language fact file: Shelta

Native to: Ireland and the UK

Number of native speakers: approximately 90k (last count in 1992)

Spoken by: the Irish travelling community

Learn some: Greet a Shelta speaker with ‘slum hawrum’ in the morning and ‘slum dorahog’ in the afternoon or evening.

Interesting facts:

  • Shelta is the formal name of this language, which is widely called The Cant or Tarri by its speakers, or De Gammon in Ireland.
  • The origins of the language are Irish Gaelic, but as its speakers are travellers, or ‘wanderers’, it is rich in influence from Scottish and English. Due to the longstanding persecution of the travelling communities, Shelta has been used as a ‘cryptolect’, which is a language designed to prevent understanding by outsiders. However, this was not its primary purpose.
  • Despite its endangered status, Shelta continues to evolve. In the US, where there is a diasporic travelling community, the ‘englishening’ (a Shelta expression to describe the encroaching influence of English on the language) has had a much bigger impact on Shelta than it has on this side of the Atlantic.

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