Multi-Layered Communication and Function in Scottish Traveller Cant

Thomas A. Mckean*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Scottish Traveller Cant, a secret cover language used for communication in small groups and families, has changed in both context and function over the last century. From being a cryptolect used entirely within the culture it has now received exposure through Traveller performance and publications. Throughout these developments, the Cant continues to be a way for Travellers to control the narrative of who they are and who they wish to be. Using songs, stories, and interactions with fieldworkers, this paper explores the power of language to define and shape identity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-121
Number of pages27
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSI am grateful to Jess Smith, Eilidh Whiteford, and John D. Niles for their many helpful suggestions as I worked on this paper. Thanks, too, to Linda Williamson for her perspica-cious and prompt replies to my queries. Most of all, thank you to all my Traveller friends who have shared so openly of their lives and experience. You are Scotland’s royalty.


  • Cant
  • Insider
  • Scotland
  • Secret language
  • Self-determination
  • Traveller-Gypsy


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