June 27, 2018

Classical Pig Latin

Have you ever heard someone say something like "ix-nay on the alking-way"? If so, you've heard some Pig Latin! Pig Latin is an argot or a language game. An argot is a modification of a language made to make it uninterpretable to outsiders. Pig Latin is a simple argot popular among English-speaking children.

The rules of Pig Latin are fairly simple:

  1. If a word starts with one or more consonants, take that consonant cluster and move it to the end of the word. Then add -ay to that consonant cluster. Examples: "pig" has the 'p' removed and moved to the back, then 'ay' is added: "ig-pay." "Strong" becomes "ong-stray."
  2. Otherwise, add "ay" to the end of the word. Example: "animal" does not start with a consonant, so it becomes "animal-ay."

You could actually boil this down to one rule: move any initial consonants to the end, and then add "ay." If there are no consonants, then there is nothing to move.

The simplicity of Pig Latin undoubtedly contributes to its popularity among children and even adults when they want to hide something. If you can't imagine a use by adults, think about a dog that recognizes the word "walk" to mean "we're going for a walk." The dog's owner wants to talk about going for a walk, but without exciting the dog. The dog's owner can say, "I think today's a good time to for an alk-way."

There are more complicated argots. One famous argot is Cockney rhyming slang. This is used among lower class Londoners speaking the Cockney dialect. Unlike Pig Latin, the rules for Cockney rhyming slang are irregular. You can vaguely boil them down to this:

  1. Take the word that you want to obscure and find a phrase that rhymes with it. For example, if you want to say stairs, you could rhyme it with "apples and pears."
  2. For maximum obscurity, remove the rhyming element from the phrase. In our example, we're left with "apples" as the slang for "stairs."

Cryptographically speaking, this is a lot harder to crack! If you hear someone say "take the apples," there's no way to be able to tell that they are referring to stairs unless the context makes it 100% clear. This means that you need to be on the inside from the beginning to understand Cockney rhyming slang.

Now I'm going to be honest - the entire point of this blog post on Pig Latin and argot was actually to show off my Pig Latin "translator". If you enter a sentence, it will translate it into Pig Latin. Check it out over here!

There's an annoyance when it comes to dealing with silent letters. For example, "honor" is pronounced /ɒnər/, no "h", in English. However, in writing, "onor-ay" is not quite as easy to decipher. Could you do "onor-hay" or "honor-ay"? Moreover, in American English the "h" in "herb" is silent, but it is pronounced in British English. The program makes no distinction and will treat initial-h like any other consonant. Perhaps a future iteration of the Pig Latin translator will be able to tell if a word has a silent 'h' in the beginning!

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