Cryptolalia: What Is It And How Is It Associated With Schizophrenia?

In chronic psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, sometimes the affected person develops language based on cues that are incomprehensible to others, among other alterations that reflect disorganization of thought. We use the term “cryptolalia” to refer to this “hidden speech.” frequently associated with cryptography.

What is cryptolalia?

Cryptolalia is defined as the use of a private and incomprehensible language for the rest of the people in order to prevent them from understanding it. The term is used in a specific way in the field of psychology, although its meaning is broader and we can also apply it in contexts in which no type of mental alteration is present.

From a psychopathological point of view, the phenomenon of cryptolalia It is usually associated with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, which are characterized by the loss of contact with reality; This manifests itself in symptoms and signs such as hallucinations, delusions, emotional flattening or disorganization of thought and language.

However, cryptolalia does not have to be a consequence of psychological disorders. Technically the definition of the concept can include any type of alteration of oral language based on a specific key, so that it cannot be understood by those who do not know it. Therefore, in some contexts it may have obvious practical uses.

Many children apply alterations to their speech based on very simple cues (such as adding an extra syllable on a regular basis) with the intention of secretly communicating with select groups of peers. On the other hand, activities such as espionage can find strategic uses for cryptolalia; In this sense, cryptography is worth mentioning.

You may be interested:  What is Systematic Desensitization and How Does it Work?

Relationship with cryptography

The term “cryptography” can be translated as “hidden writing”; Therefore, it is easy to deduce its relationship with cryptolalia, which means “hidden speech.” Thus, we can define cryptography as the use of coding techniques in written language so that only people who know the interpretation keys can read the final material.

As with cryptolalia, cryptography may or may not occur in the context of a psychological disorder. When this is the case, it often appears in conjunction with cryptolalia as part of a private language. As we have previously mentioned, psychoses are usually the most determining pathologies in their emergence.

The use of cryptography in different contexts is better known than that of cryptolalia, particularly in war conflicts. A particularly well-known example is the Enigma machine, which was used by the German military forces both to encode and decode messages during World War II.

Cryptolalia as a sign of schizophrenia

Scharfetter (1977) uses the concept of cryptolalia to refer to extreme manifestations of the language disorders that characterize psychoses and in particular to schizophrenia, whose main diagnostic criterion is the chronicity of psychotic symptoms.

According to this author, some people with schizophrenia seek the achievement of a private symbolism, which only they can understand. This would lead them to create idiosyncratic words without a meaning agreed upon with the rest of society; If the level of complexity of the process is high, cryptolalia and cryptography are likely to occur.

However, the conceptualization on which Scharfetter works is difficult to distinguish from the phenomenon of neologism, another of the typical linguistic signs of schizophrenia. In the following section we will refer to this and other similar alterations, which constitute clear reflections of thought disorganization that occurs in this disorder.

You may be interested:  Claustrophobia: Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Language alterations in psychoses

In addition to neologisms, which in psychopathology are defined as strange words whose meaning is only known to the person who uses them, many other language alterations appear in psychotic disorders. It is worth highlighting the similarity of some of these phenomena with those that characterize Wernicke’s aphasia, caused by brain lesions.

These language disorders may consist of a impoverishment of speech or the appearance of productive alterations In relation to the first group of phenomena, we can say that schizophrenia and the rest of psychoses usually involve poverty in the content and form of spoken language, a consequence of cognitive dysfunctions.

Also typical are lack of general coherence, forgetting the topic or objective of the speech (derailment), frequent interruptions, tangentiality of answers to specific questions, increased speech speed (logorrhea) or word selection. based on its similarity to others and not based on a specific theme.

Other linguistic phenomena that occur in these disorders are perseveration around the same topic, echolalia, which consists of repeating other people’s words involuntarily assonance and alliteration (choice of words according to their sounds) and the use of excessively elaborate and consequently pedantic and unnatural language.