What Is Pig Latin and Is It a Real Language?

Article in partnership with Day Translations.

Once again, while reading through online publications, I came across a gem, this time from The New Yorker. In a 2023 article, entitled ‘Translation – My Multilingual Life’, accompanied by a quirky illustration of a cartoon pig among letters, the author Ian Frazier recounts his childhood memories of speaking in a foreign language that is unlike modern languages we are familiar with.

​What Is Pig Latin?

According to the writer, Pig Latin is a code language that simply jumbles the English language by shifting the first consonant or the pairing of the first consonant and vowel to the end of the word. Then, each word must finish with “ay” (‘ei’ sound). The typical example is the word “hello”, which in Pig Latin becomes “ello-hay”. Pig Latin can also be defined as a “language game”. In fact, Frazier has bouts of nostalgia while reminiscing speaking Pig Latin fluently with his siblings, creating a de facto cameraderie that their parents had no chance to break up. Intergenerational communications are already fraught with difficulties, as old slang is replaced by new colloquialism. In the Frazier household, it must have been almost impossible for the parents to make sense of their children’s unintelligeable chatter (or, dare I say it, affectation). Even when his parents could guess what Ian was saying, he and his siblings would switch to another code they had pre-agreed, such as changing the order of words, Yoda-style.

You can even find online “calculators” which can help you create words in Pig Latin by automatically moving the first consonant and adding “ay” at the end.

No way! Yes way! It’s as simple as that, but hearing Pig Latin being spoken must be extremely confusing.

​Is Pig Latin a Real Language?

The short answer to this question is: no. However, Ian Frazier did many interesting experiments with language, pushing the boundaries of meaning in search for the ultimate achievement: making people laugh.

Frazier is not only a writer but also a humourist with a regular column inThe New Yorker and features in The Atlantic Monthy, and he enjoys making fun of various aspects of life, history and popular culture. Harvard-educated, Frazier has won several writing awards.

His first book in 1986 was a collection of humorous essays entitled ‘Dating Your Mom’.

Frazier cheekily expressed in his 2023 The New Yorker article a wish to see a resurgence of Pig Latin instead of its current decline, dreaming it becomes a sort of lingua franca or common language of US elites, not dissimilarly to the French language being spoken by the upper classes in tsarist Russia. He also joked about translating his first memoir from Pig Latin into French and then into English, poking fun at the whole hypothetical and hyperbolical process.

​A Quick Word about Code Languages

While online translators and apps make using a foreign language as a code to shroud messages in secrecy a thing of the past, it is worth casting our mind back to the Second World War when the British forces used the Welsh language during communications to exchange information (source).

Basque was also used for some coded communications in Asian countries about logistics.

In the United States Native American languages such as Cherokee, Comanche and Navajo were chosen for coded messages because only a very limited number of people could speak them and it was unlikely that anyone outside the US would understand what was being said. In the year 2000 a number of Navajo code talkers were given a Congressional Gold medal for their work during World War II.