LINGUIST List 15.901

Wed Mar 17 2004

Qs: Cross-ling Secret/Nonsense Language Names

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  1. Leena Kolehmainen, Secret Language Names

Message 1: Secret Language Names

Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2004 20:12:36 +0200 (EET)
From: Leena Kolehmainen <>
Subject: Secret Language Names

Dear Linguists,

we are doing research on the Finnish word


The Finnish word is polysemous meaning
(a) 'a secret language/a language game' (Engl. Pig Latin)
(b) 'nonsense/a not understandable language/words that are
impossible to understand' (Engl. gibberish).

In order to better understand the Finnish word, its semantics and
historical origin we thought that it might be useful and interesting to
take into account other languages and similar expressions in other
languages, too.

We are very grateful to you if you can spare your time for our questions
and share your thoughts and expertise with us. Naturally, we will provide
a summary.

We are primarily interested in following aspects (but please do not
hesitate to suggest us other perspectives, too):

- Are there studies on the etymology of the English word <Pig Latin>? What
was the primary/original semantic motivation between the components of the

- Words and expressions in other languages meaning 'Pig Latin' or
'gibberish': Are there other languages in which names of animals are used
to refer to human communicative practise? Is it a common tendency in the
languages of the world to use names of animals in similar expressions?

- Is it a broader trend in the languages of world to use names of foreign
languages in similar expressions (cf. 'German' in the Finnish word
<siansaksa>, <Latin> in English <Pig Latin>)?

- The previous linguistic study on the Finnish word <siansaksa> 'Pig
Latin' (published 1916 !) seems to suggest that the meaning 'secret
language/language game' is the original one and that the meaning
'nonsense' has developed on later stages.
Is this semantic development a common tendency that has occured in other
languages, too, and can you perhaps give us examples from other languages?

It would be very helpful if you could provide your examples (from
languages other than English) with glosses. Please reply to Leena's

With best regards,

Leena Kolehmainen (e-mail:*
Eija Jokinen (e-mail:**

* Dept. of German, U of Helsinki, Finland
** Dept. of German, U of Tampere, Finland

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