Language: it’s what we use to tell people to be quiet. But it’s also much more than that. It could be said that language is somewhat important to human history. Every culture to ever exist seems to have developed it’s own language. In fact, there are at least 5 thousand of them. Not all languages are equal. Many have been dead for hundreds or even thousands of years. Some are spoken by just a handful of people and may soon be gone themselves. And some are deeply mysterious, be they of a lost civilization from long ago, an occult language shrouded in secrecy, or an even stranger tongue. Here are ten of the most mysterious languages on earth.
Our Video on Mysterious Languages
In Medieval times it was widely believed there was a divine language. The language spoken by angels and god himself. For many that language could be found in the private journals of a man called John Dee. Dee was England’s foremost occultist, having spent years studying alchemy and magic. Eventually he became an adviser to Queen Elizabeth. It was said he was even able to summon demons and angels, who taught Dee the mysterious language in 1582. Preserved in his writings, the language is unlike any other. It’s alphabet and grammar are unique – even alien like.
Read from left to right, each letter has an English equivalent and has been fully translated. Rumor told that by speaking this tongue, all kinds of celestial feats could be achieved. In following centuries some came to believe it was really an evil language. That the angels who revealed it were demons in disguise. Most came to condemn it as demonic. But there were always some who believe the language is divine. Modern linguists are equally divided. Enochian could easily be a forgery. But it does have phonetic elements not found in any other language, and is still studied by occultists today.
9: Thieves’ Cant
Go back to 16th century Europe and you’d find that criminals had their own secret language. Known as Thieves’ Cant, it was spoken by thieves, pirates, highwaymen, gypsies, and anyone else lumped in with the term “rogue”. They were notoriously protective of the language, teaching it only to trusted members of the underclass. Authorities were desperate to learn it, often interrogating known rogues. But the rogues simply responded by changing the language over time. The origin of Thieves’ Cant is unknown. But according to legend it was developed in 1530 by Cock Lorel, a criminal leader claiming the title “King of the Gypsies”. There’s no historical evidence Cock Lorel even existed. But modern analysis shows it likely did evolve from the gypsy language Romani. Yet there’s only so much to analyse, given it’s a dead language surrounded by legend.
Easter Island, one of our world’s most mysterious and remote places. For hundreds of years it was home to an enigmatic culture, famous for building big head stone face idiot statues. With Easter Island being so small, that culture struggled to survive and is now long gone. But they left behind a mysterious undeciphered language known as Rongorongo. Now to me, Ron Gorongo sounds like a kind of… cartoon private detective. But my opinion is worthless. Dozens of wooden tablets of these strange symbols have been found. Thought to be read in alternating directions, it’s possible the language is linked to lunar cycles, but that’s just one theory.
We don’t know when it was developed but it was still in use up until at least the 1860s. Within decades of falling out of use no one could remember how to read it. Also by then most of the wooden tablets had been used for firewood, leaving us with just a few dozen. If Rongorongo is ever translated perhaps these tablets will reveal the purpose of the stone heads. But that day will likely never come.
7: Language of The Birds
Birds are annoying. Sometimes their chirping wakes me up. If I had my way they’d all be dead. But according to folklore their chirping is actually a language. In Norse mythology the legendary king Dag the Wise could understand the language of birds. As could figures in Greek mythology. The Talmud says king Solomon had the same ability and often took their advice. What these and many other legends have in common is that only those chosen by god can understand the language. It’s said to be the world’s only perfect language, one that can grant an unlimited source of divine wisdom. Some renaissance thinkers genuinely believed in the language and spent years trying to decipher it. But of course, they found no success.
The Incan Empire was the largest of all native American empires. It’s pure vastness made communication difficult, given they had no horses or written language. So to spread news messengers would literally need to run between towns and deliver it. But some information is too sensitive to entrust to a messenger. So a unique communication system was thought up. Messengers would carry complex devices made of string called Quipu. The position and number of knots tied into the Quipu contained complex messeges. All kinds of things could be found out by reading a Quipu. They gave the ability to communicate with remote villages in almost no time. But only some people were able to read Quipu. It was a closely guarded secret, truly one of the most mysterious languages to ever be conceived. Very few Quipu have survived. But some have thousands of strings.
For much of Chinese history women were denied education, in some cases being forbidden from learning to read or write. To get around this a secret written language was developed, a language used exclusively by women. For hundreds of years upper class women in China sent each other hidden messages in Nushu. Mothers taught the art to their daughters, ensuring it would survive for centuries, from at least the 15 hundreds into modernity. All the while they kept the existence of Nushu a strict secret. When they died, all they had written would usually be destroyed. It’s said only one man ever achieved proficiency in Nushu.
Going into the 1900s, many Chinese women still used it. But when the Japanese invaded they outlawed Nushu, fearing it would be used by rebels, as secret and mysterious languages often were. This, combined with a greater access to education, slowly drained the life from the art. Few today are able to read it.
At the border of France and Spain is a region called the Basque Country, and this region is home to one of our world’s most mysterious languages. Basque is thought to be the oldest language in Europe, but it’s origin is completely unknown. It has no known connection to any other language, as if it just appeared from no where. The Basque people have been here for at least six thousand years, largely isolated by the deep valleys, high mountains, and dense forests of their homeland. So it makes sense they were able to maintain this unique language. But Basque itself could be much older than six thousand years.
The structure of Basque is truly strange, and has always been difficult to translate. All kinds of theories exist concerning it’s origin. Some even claim it was the language of Atlantis, and that the Basque people are the descendants of that lost civilization.
3: Masonic Language
Freemasonry is pretty weird. Perhaps the most notorious secret society in history, all kinds of powerful figures were masons. Many Freemasons took to studying ancient mysteries and mysterious languages, from which they developed their own communication method. It’s a writing system so complex a cipher was needed to decode it. There were many variations of the cipher, and it proved such an effective system it was used by Union forces in the American civil war. The origins of the Masonic cipher are not known for certain. Some believe it grew from an ancient school of Jewish mysticism. It was widely used during the 18th and 19th centuries, but fell out of use when books came out exposing the cipher. According to rumor, newer, even more complex ciphers were developed and are still used now to conceal Masonic ciphers.
2: Linear A
The island of Crete was once home to a great bronze age civilization. Their influence stretched far and wide, and they clearly enjoyed great wealth. But there are no signs they had any kind of military force. We know little of life in the Minoan civilization, least of all how they avoided invasion from surrounding forces. Their writing system is a complete mystery to us. Not one text in the language has been deciphered. Known as Linear A, it seems to have not been influenced by the languages of neighboring civilizations. And despite being studied since the 1950s it remains a language of mystery. And so when it comes to studying Europe’s first great civilization, we don’t have much more than works of art. Greek mythology describes it as a land of monstrous creatures like the Minotaur. As far as we know those myths could be true. I mean they for sure aren’t, but still. Whatever.
Speaking of mysterious languages of the bronze age, no civilizations of the era were larger than the Indus Valley Civilization. Flourishing along the immense Indus river, the culture steadily grew, eventually having a population in the millions… at least we think so. We can’t be sure about much because it’s language is undecipherable and has no known descendants. It seems to have simply died and been forgotten by history. And so, despite this civilization surviving thousands of years, and despite more than 15 hundred cities and settlements being discovered, their language is a mystery in every sense of the word. All contemporary materials that reference the language are also unreadable mysterious languages. Yet they clearly had a language and advanced writing system, ass can be seen in their 400 symbol strong alphabet.