Magazine article Verbatim

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Pig Latin but Were Afraid to Ask

Magazine article Verbatim

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Pig Latin but Were Afraid to Ask

Article excerpt

'Oday ouya easkspay Igpay Atlinay'?

Thousands of people all over the world do--speak Pig Latin, that is. Pig Latin is a constructed or "play," language that has been popular for years among children--and adults.

It's generally used as a secret language in an effort to hide the actual message being relayed from anyone not in the know. Children use it to communicate in their own private language and many adults, who once spoke Pig Latin as children, revert to it when they want to discuss something in front of their offspring that they don't want them to understand.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Pig Latin as "an invented language formed by systematic distortion of the source language."

As in most constructed languages the basis of Pig Latin is formed by transposing the letter order of a word and adding a meaningless syllable. When translating words that begin with a consonant, the first letter is dropped and an "ay" is added at the end: the word frog becomes ogfray, good becomes oodgay, and so on. Words that begin with a vowel are transformed by adding "way" to the end and out translates into outway.

There is an infinite variety of play or "little" languages, but Pig Latin is considered the most popular and is in general use, in one form or another, throughout the world. Some of the other common "little" languages include "oppish," "eggy peggy" and "ong."

"Oppish" appears to be the most complex of the three languages as "op" is added after each consonant in a word, making a simple word such as umbrella into a tongue-twisting umopbopropeloplopa. "Eggy peggy" requires inserting "egg" at the beginning of a word: Well become weggell, and this changes into theggis. In "ong" you just add "ong" after every syllable.

But how and when did the whole Pig Latin craze get started? There are many theories about its origins, but no one seems to have a definitive answer.

Some scholars speculate that this form of constructed language has been around since the First World War, or even earlier, under a variety of names, including Dog Latin and Hog Latin.

The Cat's Elbow and Other Secret Languages (Alvin Schwartz, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1985) cites the play language as "so easy to learn even a pig could learn it, hence: Pig Latin."

One humorous, and anonymous, web site description credits the origins of Pig Latin to have been: "discovered by a hunter in the Amazon jungle. He was wounded by a poisonous snake. Almost dead, a tribe of pigmy warriors found him and nurtured him back to health. But the hunter was not ready to go back to civilization: he stayed and worked and learned how to live in peace with animals. …

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