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The Pig Latins of 11 Other Languages

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Pig Latin. Ig-pay atin-lay. It is 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. These words can get pretty long, so it's a good thing someone made Rövarspråket generator.

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 p's 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 f's 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 b's 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.

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Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]

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