The Pig Latins of 11 Other Languages
By Arika Okrent
Pig Latin. Ig-pay atin-lay. It’s not really a different language, but an encoded version of English based on a very simple transformation rule. Move the first sound to the end of the word and add "ay." Linguists call this kind of thing a language game, and lots of languages have them. Language games may be used as a secret code, a way to avoid saying taboo words, or just for fun. The transformation rules in language games can vary. For example, in Pig Latin words that start with vowels may take a –way, –hey, or –yay ending. Rules of language games in other languages may also vary, but here are some general guidelines for fun in 11 different languages.
1. Rövarspråket // Swedish
Rövarspråket means "robber language" in Swedish, and it was made popular in a series of boy detective books by Astrid Lindgren. You double every consonant and put an o between them, so IKEA, for example, would be Ikokea, while the new Swedish coinage ogooglebar (ungoogleable), would be ogogoogoglolebobaror.
2. Löffelsprache // German
In German Löffelsprache, or "spoon language," a "lew," "lef" or "lev" is inserted between duplicated vowels. Guten Morgen becomes out Gulewutelewen Moleworgelewen. Got it? Now try it on one of those famously long German compound words—say, Wirtschaftsingenieurwesen (industrial engineering). On second thought, you might have to actually be an industrial engineer to do that…
3. Jerigonza // Spanish
A language game played in Spanish-speaking countries, Jerigonza, meaning "gibberish," involves doubling vowels and inserting Ps between them. Hola becomes hopolapa. Gracias becomes grapacipiapas. Do you like jerigonza? Te gusta la jerigonza? Or rather, tepe gupustapa lapa jeperipigoponzapa?
4. Língua do pê // Portuguese
There is a similar game in Portuguese called Língua do pê or p-language. The rules can vary a little, as they do in Pig Latin or any other language game. In Brazil, Brasil could come out as Braprasilpil or Brapasilpil. In Portugal, you might get Popor putu pagal or Porpor putu palgal.
5. Alfabeto farfallino // Italian
In Italy, they use an F instead of a P, resulting in words like ciafaofo for ciao. Alfabeto farfallino means butterfly alphabet. Not only do all those Fs make every word sound like farfallina—the word for “little butterfly”—but when spoken, it brings to mind the gentle puffs of air from butterfly wings. Just listen: afalbefetofo fafarfafallifinofo. Can you hear the butterflies?
6. Sananmuunnos // Finnish
Sananmuunnos means "word transformation" or "spoonerism." To play this language game, sections of words are swapped with each other and vowels may be changed as well. If you apply sananmuunnos to sananmuunnos, it becomes munansaannos, which can be understood as "a yield of penis."
7. Verlan // French
In French, Verlan is a method for making slang terms by swapping syllables or reversing them. The word Verlan is itself a Verlan word from l'envers (backwards), pronounced approximately “lan-ver.” Swap the syllables and you get “ver-lan.” Some Verlan words become so much a part of French slang that they get re-verlanized. Meuf (girlfriend, chick), a Verlan version of femme (woman), became so widespread that it got passed through the filter again to produce feume. This re-verlanization is sometimes called Verlan au carré, or Verlan squared.
8. Nói lái // Vietnamese
The Vietnamese language game Nói lái involves the swapping of words, or parts of words, and tones. Usually the result is a real phrase that means something different. If you want to talk about chửa hoang (pregnancy out of wedlock), but don't want to say it outright, you might use hoảng chưa (scared yet?) instead.
9. Babigo // Japanese
In Babigo, the B syllables—ba, bi, bo, bu, be—are inserted after the syllables of Japanese words. You can greet your friends with kobonibichibiwaba (konnichiwa, “hello”) when you meet them for subushibi (“sushi”) to talk about beibesububoborubu (beisuboru, “baseball”).
10. Madárnelv // Hungarian
In the Hungarian Madárnyelv (bird language) game, the V syllables—va, vi, vo, vö, vé, ve, vu, vü—are inserted into each syllable after the vowel, turning madárnyelv into mavadávárnyevelv and Budapest into Buvudavapevest.
11. Bet-language // Hebrew
In Hebrew Bet-language, or b-language, vowels are duplicated and Bs inserted between them. In 1978, this language game helped Israel get its first win in the Eurovision song contest with Izhar Cohen & the Alphabeta's "Abanibi." The song talks about how the boys were mean to girls when they were little kids. The truth was that they loved them, but they could only say it in code: Abanibi obohebev obotabach, which is ani ohev otach (“I love you”) in Bet-language. All those extra syllables make a catchy chorus.