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Language game

A language game is a concept developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein at the beginning of his book Philosophical Investigations. A language game is a simple language, combined with a context that shows what to do with the language. One example he gives is a language for building, containing two words, 'slab' and 'brick'. When A says 'slab' to B, B finds a slab and gives it to A; likewise, when A says 'brick' to B, B finds a brick and gives it to A.


In another sense, language games are not technically artificial languages so much as heuristics for altering language, like a code. They are used primarily by groups attempting to conceal their conversations from others. Most common examples are: Pig latin, which is used all over the globe; the Gibberish family, prevalent mainly in the USA and Hungary, and Verlan in France. Each of these "languages games" involves a usually simple standard transformation to speech, thus encoding it. The languages can be easily decoded by a skilled speaker, who swaps or removes the necessary letters or syllables.

A common difficulty with language games is that they are usually passed down orally. While written translations can be made, they are often imperfect, and thus spelling can vary widely. Some factions argue that words in these spoken tongues should simply be written the way they are pronounced, while others insist that the purity of language demands that the transformation remain visible when the words are imparted to paper. Contrary to what proponents of either side may tell you, there is no one definitive written lexicon for language games, but it is rather a matter of dialect.

Common language games
Host LanguageGame NameBasic RulesNotes
Dutchreversed elements & wordsmercantile code
English (etc.)Pig latinfirst consonant to end +ay
English bicycle schwa ess after all consonants
EnglishCockney rhyming slangcanonical rhyming word pairs; speakers often drop the second word of common pairstrouble & strife = wife
Englisheggegg langeggwageggapparently, insert "egg" after each syllable
Englishgibberishinsert "itherg" before the first vowel in a syllableGibberish is also a family of related language games.
EnglishUbbi dubbiinsert "ub" before the first vowel in a syllablePBS show Zoom; part of the gibberish family
Englishyardle bardle
Englishzambuda
Farsizabon-e-zargari
FrenchLouchebeminital consonant to end, +var. suffixes, prepend "L"
FrenchVerlan
German"lav" inserted after some vowel sounds
Hungarianrepeat vowel add "v"Hungarian counterpart of Ubbi dubbi
ItalianLatino Maccheronico
JapaneseBa-bi-bu-be-bo
MandarinFanquie
PortugueseSima
PortugueseLinga do Pe
RussianFufajskij yazyk
Russianporosyachia latin
Spanish"f" added to certain syllables
SwedishAllspråketfirst consonant to end +all
SwedishIsprikitall vowels changed to i
SwedishRövarspråketconsonants are changed to "consonant o consonant"



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