Polari - The Lost Language of Gay Men

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Taylor & Francis, Jan 14, 2004 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 224 pages
4 Reviews
Polari is a secret form of language mainly used by homosexual men in London and other cities during the twentieth century. Derived in part from the slang lexicons of numerous stigmatised and itinerant groups, Polari was also a means of socialising, acting out camp performances and reconstructing a shared gay identity and worldview among its speakers. This book examines the ways in which Polari was used in order to construct 'gay identities', linking its evolution to the changing status of gay men and lesbians in the UK over the past fifty years.

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This is a very thorough piece of academic research on dialectology. It can definitely be interesting to sociolinguists.

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okay i just wanna respond to the other reviewer here— this isn't a how-to guide, this is a book about twentieth century subculture slang. it was actually a crime to be homosexual back then, so a need to not be understood was needed.. also it was a way to find & connect with other gay people without actually asking "hey are you a homosexual?" This book is a cultural & linguistic study, not a Secret Guide for All Gay Men to Memorize Right Now So We Can Talk About Sex in Public. Also it's not gibberish, it's a slang language with words derived from french, cockney rhyming slang, italian, backslang, yiddish, etc. Polari has had an impact on mainstream english (ex. popularizing the word 'naff') and mainstream culture (it shows up in Velvet Goldmine, David Bowie songs, Round the Horne, etc), so it's really not that niche of a thing either.
Polari is a super interesting subject and I was thrilled someone actually went to write a book about it! it's very hard to find information on this subject and I honestly don't think there are any other books on it out there (especially none as thorough as this one).

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About the author (2004)

Paul Baker is a research associate at the Department of Linguistics, Lancaster University. His research interests include endangered and minority languages, language and sexualities and corpus based approached to language engineering. He has published papers in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, Literary and Linguistics Computing and Computer Assisted Language Learning. He is a committee member of the Foundation for Endangered Languages.

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