Posted by: irmayasari | October 23, 2009

Pig latin? ‘Language game’ or ‘secret language’

When I was a kid in West Papua, I used to hear my female friends use a kind of ‘secret language’ to communicate. I am not so sure whether to call it ‘a language game’ or as a ‘secret language’, but in this blog, I prefer to call it as ‘secret language’ since I used it to communicate secretly. At that time, I was not so clever in using it, I could not talk so fluently as my friends but I understand the way the talk and understand what they meant, I usually just sit and listen what they meant and sometimes responded in short words of ‘secret language’ or in my dialect rather than use the flourish ‘secret language’. We used it when we want to gossiping or talking about a secret thing. I reckoned that the boys in my neighborhood did not use it quite often even though I was once heard several boys used it, too. However, I noticed I just used it when I was in primary school because when I was in high school, my friends and I did not use it anymore but using another way to communicate secretly like using ‘idiom’ or another means like body language or facial expression.

The way we use this ‘secret language’ is by inserting particular syllables into a word in order to create a new word. Usually my friend and I inserting the voiced velar sound ‘g’ especially ‘ga’ and voiceless velar ‘k’. For voiceless ‘k’, the way it shapes the word depends on the last vowel in the syllable used. The examples of using my childhood ‘secret language’ are shown below.

#1. Example of voiced velar ‘g’ especially ‘ga’ sound

Sagayaga makanaga pigasangga. (‘Secret language’)

Saya makan pisang. (Indonesian)

I eat a banana (English)

Saga makanaga pigasangga. (Secret language’)

Sa makan pisang. (Papuan Malay)

I eat a banana. (English)

#2. Example of voiced velar ‘k’.

Koko piki makanaka? (‘secret language’)

Ko pi mana? (Papuan Malay)

Where do you go? (English)

Last month, when I discussed with Johanna in one particular occasion, Dr Johanna Rendle-Short said this kind of ‘secret language’ in English is called ‘pig latin’(personal conversation, September 2009). Then, I browsed and found the link in wikipedia about what is pig latin which is said as a ‘language game’. ( Last week, when I wanted to pick up my assignment feedback, I also met Piers Kelly and asked him about this ‘secret language’, he told me that I could also check the another reference which may relate to this topic ‘cryptolect’ especially about the purpose of using it (Personal conversation, 16th October 2009). I find a link in wikipedia but it is more on cant (;

I still wonder about how to define the way my friends and I spoke since it shares the meaning of secret language and pig latin. Whether it is a merely a pig latin as ‘a language game’ or can I call it as a ‘secret language’, I still have no idea. Do you have another example in your own language or something similar? I just still wonder whether my nieces and nephew will use when they enter primary school or not? Whether the students in my hometown still use it is still a big question in mind  but I personally know that this kind of ‘language’ helped my friends and I to communicate freely.



  1. When I was in Primary School in Kupang, My litle sister and I have almost similar “language game”. One of them is almost similar to what you were using in Papua where we insert ‘g’ sound after each syllable in a word and the vowel that follows the ‘g’ should be similar to the vowel sound of the syllable where the ‘g’ sound is attached. For example:

    Begetaga magaugu pigigigi segekogolaga
    Beta mau pi sekolah(Kupang)  I want to go to school (English)

    Another one is by changing the vowel of the last syllable into the /o/ and retains the consonant and then repeating the last syllable by changing the vowel into an /e/ sound. For example:

    Betote sukoke makoken ikoken
    Beta suka makan ikan  I like eating fish

    When I moved to Flores with my parents, one of my classmates taught another language game. She started by calling my name in it:

    ewelotewenot dotawahotawatot (See how it is very different from the original)

    This seems quite difficult to do but once we know the rule it is very easy. The rule is simple. We insert one syllable after each letter in a word. The vowel is always followed by the syllable which has a ‘w’ consonant and the vowel sound which should be similar to the vowel where the syllable is attached. The consonant is attached with the ‘ot’. For example in my name, ELEN DAHAT  EweLotEweNot DotAwaHotAwaTot.

    My parents also have their own secret language which they used when I was very young. I call this secret language because they use it when they don’t want us or other people to know what they were talking about. The language is called bahasa oteng. This language is different from the three other languages in which, we do not add any sound or syllable to the original words but we rearrange the letters the other way around, based on the sound, for example:

    Ilop ngah is the secret language for the phrase Poli Hang which in English means have finished lunch.

    Here are other examples: Ipok  kopi (coffee), gola- alog (sugar), seng nges (money) etc.

    I would rather call the three examples as language game as those languages are used by children as game, and prefer call the last one “secret language” as I notice that it is not used in game but used when someone do not want other people out of their group to understand the language.

    • mmseng1 / Cool. Thanks Nick. I’ve been playing games for years and never bothered to look up the technical deiftinions of many of these options. I’d only vaguely gathered their purpose through context.

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