Subecrubet Lubangubaugubes

by Bernie DeKoven on December 11, 2002

Today’s sweeping generalization: we learn just about everything, especially everything that is really complex, by playing.

Take, for example, language. What do we do as soon as we master our abilities to speak our native languages? We invent our own languages! Our special, secret languages. Like, say, Pig Latin.

Ask almost anyone, and they’ll tell you: “Igpay Atinlay isway obablypray ethay estbay ownknay ecretsay ofway allway ecretsay anguageslay.” (which is their way of saying “Pig Latin is probably the best known secret of all secret languages” – as rendered by the indispensable English to Pig Latin Translator).

For those for whom Pig Latin is too elementary, there’s also Opish where you add op or ob immediately after each consonant phoneme. Opish is, as you might guess, but the tip of the secret languages proverbial iceberg. Take a look at this wonderful exchange of observations and reminiscences on the LINGUIST List 8.1570.

And of course there’s the ever elusive Turkey Irish. Not to mention the vast and once well-guarded secrets of Double-Dutch, Eggy Peggy, Gree, Na and Skimono Jive. And, most recently, thanks to the kids’ TV show Zoom, the Ubbi Dubbi language, now made available to all through this handy online translator.

According to this article by Kara VanDam, secret languages are a universal phenomenon, not limited to children. She gives the example of the Tut language that was developed by slaves to teach each other to read (what a testimony to the human mind and spirit, that people would actually create one language so they could teach each other to read another!).

Finally, there’s Ron Hipschman’s article The Secret Langauge that takes this contemplation of kids, play and language one step further, into mathematics and the complex and confounding realms of codes, ciphers, and cryptology.


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