46 | Ix-Nay on the Anguage-Lay

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts.

In eighth grade we had to choose our foreign language for high school. Since, at that time, I still thought I was heading towards law school, Latin was the obvious way to go. Even though I gave up the law school idea (it was never what I really wanted, it just seemed practical–practical doesn’t equal fulfilling, right?) I stuck with Latin all four years. Sure, I was never truly great at the grammar (though bits of it did make the English grammar rules make more sense) and I reveled in the cultural side of Ancient Rome more than anything, but the foundation it’s given me for sussing out bits and pieces of the more common (and actually spoken) Romance languages is still hanging around in my head.

About that time, the Latin for All Occasions books were becoming quite popular among the egg-heads among us, and we did have a bit of fun cheekily spouting corrupt Latin phrases at a moment’s notice. Talk about your initiates!

And so we find ourselves at the next art:

46 Understanding barbarous foreign languages (mleccha)
Or by inverting syllables, being understood only by the initiated 

“Barbarous” makes me think of the more guttural German or, perhaps, Russian languages, but many French or Italian speakers would not be out of line to say that English is just as barbarous to their ears. I tend to thing anyone speaking any language flawlessly is a pleasure to listen to, but some are certainly more melodic than others. Of course, a quick search on “mleccha” indicates that anything not the native speaker’s language counts, so we could just have ourselves a field day.

The description of the art obviously made me think of Pig-Latin, though: far more easy to decipher if you know the basic rules:

  • For words that start with a consonant or consonant sound, pop that consonant onto the end of the word with an -ay following
  • For words that start with a vowel or vowel sound, just add the -ay to the end of the work without further rearranging necessary

Have you ever tried to come up with your own language? Either with a swap or reversal style of pig-Latin or just using different words for different reasons. Even, perhaps, certain in-jokes that mean things among your friend groups could count as your own language when used to send “coded messages” in a crowded room.

And then there are the pop culture references that can show a bond between you and a near-stranger when you realize you like the same things. Fans of Battlestar Gallactica, for instance, might recognize each other when someone drops a frack-bomb in casual conversation. Or, to reference another fandom, Firefly fans will certain understand you when you toss in a gorram or two.

After all, isn’t the whole point of a language–public or private–to communicate? And in communicating with the people around us (either in person or online), we build community.