Saturday, December 15, 2012

Language Games: Pig Latin

If you're a native English speaker, you probably had a phase during primary school when you and your friends spoke Pig Latin to each other incessantly. You were actually experimenting with a language game or argot, though most of the adults around just thought you were trying to drive them insane with your gibberish.

Is this not the happiest pig you've ever seen?
He has no idea he's about to become sausages...

Language games are systems of speech manipulation with the intention of making language incomprehensible to those who don't know the system. While they're primarily used by children for amusement and to disguise conversations, they have also been created by other groups (such as criminals) as a form of secret communication.

Another term for language game is argot, the French/Spanish/Catalan word for "slang". Argots are versions of existing languages with modified vocabulary. They're not characterized as distinct languages no matter how different they may sound because they follow all the same grammatical rules and merely manipulate a language's vocabulary instead of creating their own terms. So what's the most famous language game? Igpay Atinlay, or Pig Latin to you monoglots out there.

An adorable new member of the genus Sus.

Believe it or not, Pig Latin has been around for at least a few hundred years! There are supposedly even historical records that show that Thomas Jefferson wrote letters to his friends in Pig Latin. If you're like us, you're probably curious as to the origins of this game's name. Around the time of Shakespeare (if not earlier), nonsensical wordplay became popular. People started to call this manipulated language false Latin. Over several centuries, it became dog Latin, then dog Greek and pig Greek. All of these terms were used in reference to language that sounded like Latin but was not. Apparently, by the mid-1800s, children had developed an argot that was called hog-Latin, which became pig Latin just a few years later. Finally, the perfect animal/classical language combination had been found!

We're disappointed they never tried out Penguin Sanskrit.

Here are the modern rules for Pig Latin, in case you need a refresher:

Words that begin with consonants - the initial consonant or consonant cluster is moved to the end of the word; "ay" is added.
"happy" = appy-hay
"language" = anguage-lay

Words that begin with vowels or silent consonants - the initial vowel is removed (or moved to the end of the word); "ay" or "way" is added.
"another" = nother-way or nother-ay
"about" = bout-way or bout-away

Compound words - each component word is changed separately.
"birdhouse" = ird-bay ouse-hay

A few of the more popular Pig Latin terms have even made it into American English slang. We're not sure how common upid-stay or am-scray are, but ix-nay is definitely a recognizable part of the American lexicon.

Check back tomorrow when we'll have more language games.