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More Language Games Like Pig Latin

You know about Pig Latin, but do you know about Goose Latin, Verlan, and Ubbi Dubbi?

By
Mignon Fogarty,
July 6, 2017
Episode #576

games like pig latin in other languages

Last month, we talked about whether Pig Latin is a real language and came down on the side that it’s actually a language game, and I asked you if you know about other kinds of language games in English or in other languages, and I got a few interesting answers.

Aba Speak in German

A listener with the handle @halloleo on Twitter told me about a game called “Aba” that German kids use to exchange secret messages just like Pig Latin. He says, you add a B after each vowel and then add that same vowel. For example, for the word cat you’d see the A, add B after it, and then add another A to make cabat. One of Leo’s examples was Afrika, which with its three vowels become Abafribikaba.

Le Verlan in French

Syelle Graves told me about a similar language game in French, called “Le Verlan,” so named because verlan is the reverse syllable order of l’envers (à l’envers means “backward,” or “inside out”). You know Syelle’s name because she’s one of my linguist guest writers. She says that in Verlan, you reverse the syllables, and for monosyllabic words, I believe you just reverse the initial and final consonants, and some of the results have entered the lexicon as regular slang. For example, the word meuf (femme backward) means “a chick,” and is used constantly. So is ouf (fou, or crazy backward). Another two-syllable word example is français (“French”), which becomes céfran. One thing that makes Verlan interesting to linguists is that it’s complex in how rule-governed it is (as is Pig Latin). 

Goose Latin in English

In the original Pig Latin piece, I mentioned that the Oxford English Dictionary includes other “Animal Latins” such as Hog Latin, Dog Latin, and Goose Latin, and Judith Abbott knew more about Goose Latin. She wrote, “Sometime in the 1950s, in some areas of the US, there was a different Goose Latin. It was a type of Pig Latin as far as being gibberish to confound parents, but used lf after each vowel sound in each syllable. Pig would be pilfig ... girl was gilfirl (try saying that fast!).” 

From her examples, it sounds as if, like in the German Aba Speak, you then add the vowel again after the lf. For example, P-I-G becomes P-I-L-F-I-G: pilfig.

And she continues “Don't even think about trying alfalfa … Kids could speak it with astonishing quickness; adults, not so well.”

Ubbi Dubbi in English

@ScienceGaGa on Twitter brought up Ubbi Dubbi, which was a language game popularized by the 1970s PBS kids show Zoom and also used by the character Mushmouth from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids which also aired in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

Ubbi Dubbi is still talked about more than I would have thought it would be on Twitter. Maybe because Zoom had a reboot from 1999 to 2005, or maybe because the game was featured in an episode of Big Bang Theory where Penny and Amy used Ubbi Dubbi to try to talk without being understood by Sheldon and Leonard, who were, by they way, speaking Klingon.

In Ubbi Dubbi, you add ub before each vowel sound, so cat would become cubat and girl would become gubirl. And if you’re confused or want to play with it more, the PBSKids website has an Ubbi Dubbi translator

Pig Latin Online and in the Media

Yodatheoak on Twitter also pointed me to a Pig Latin translator online and reminded me that they used Pig Latin in the movie Monsters, Inc. The big, furry Sulley says, “Ooklay in the agbay,” to Mike to tell him to look in the bag.

Pig Latin has actually been used so many times in TV, movies, and popular culture that I can hardly even begin to tell you about them. It looks like one of the earliest examples is from 1963 when Kellogg’s Froot Loops had Toucan Sam call them Oot-fray Oops-lay, but TVtropes.org has more than 50 Pig Latin examples. And TVTropes.org also has a list of other language games that nobody told me about including Rövarspråket (which they say is Swedish); Farfallino (which they say is Italian); Konttikieli, Venekieli and Vitikieli (which they say are Finnish); and Jeringoso (which they say is Spanish). If you want to tell me about any of those language games, I’d love to hear about them too.

Tutnese in English

TVtropes.org also listed Tutnese (also known as Tut language and Double-Dutch) as another English language game, or as they called them, obfuscated languages, and I did some reading about that one on my own and discovered that it was invented by black slaves in the American South maybe as a tool to learn to read when literacy was illegal. 

The changes are linked to consonants instead of vowels, and it is much, much harder than Pig Latin. Every consonant is replaced by a different syllable, for example B becomes bub, H become hash, and T becomes tut. It’s serious, and I guess that’s not surprising because making sure you don’t get caught is a lot more important when you’re a slave than when you’re just a kid playing around so your parents or friends don’t understand you.

Thanks to everyone who did tell me about Aba Speak, Verlan, Goose Latin, Ubbi Dubbi, and more about Pig Latin.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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