Thank goodness for language: without it we’d be trying to communicate using grunts and hand signals, which are quite difficult to write down.
In the Beginning Was the Word. No one knows when people, or our prehistoric ancestors, first used language. It’s possible that the human-like creatures that existed 1.5 million years ago had already developed some kind of verbal communication, because the main areas of the brain associated with speech had evolved by then.
But most experts think that language probably developed round about 50-60,000 years ago, because that’s when lots of different innovations, like painting, sculpture and complex social organization, appeared in human society.
It’s not surprising that we don’t know how exactly language came about, either, no one wrote anything down that might tell us. Perhaps hand gestures were used before speech, then words gradually developed from noises made to accompany them. Or perhaps language evolved from cries to warn others of danger.
However it happened, language soon acquired a wide vocabulary and complicated grammar, which we need to express all the clever thoughts we have. It was only about five thousand years ago that people started writing things down and not long after that someone invented spelling tests!
Squawk talk: No other animals have developed language, but a chimpanzee called Washoe was the first animal to be taught sign language. Alex, an African grey parrot at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, speaks and seems to understand language, and can count up to six.
Pig Latin (also known as ‘backslang’) is a word game that can also be used as a secret code, so your snooping parents can’t listen in on your private conversations.
Variations on backslang were used by criminals in Victorian London to talk to each other without their plans being rumbled. English butchers and grocers am also known to have spoken a type of backslang. Nowadays it is only really used as a bit of fun.
The rules for Pig Latin are very simple. This is how it works:
With words that begin with a consonant, take the first letter and place it at the back of the word then add ‘ay’. For example ‘cat’ would become ‘atcay’. Here are a few more examples:
school = choolsay holiday = olidayhay Pig Latin = igpay atinlay
This rule also applies to words with silent letters at the start, such as
know = nowkay
honest = onesthay
gnome = nomegay
With words that begin with vowels you only add ‘ay’ (or, if you prefer, yay). For example:
out = outay
apple = appleay
offer = offeray
That’s pretty much it! So the sentence ‘Meet me at midnight’ becomes `Eetmay emay atay idnightmay’
Ready? Now you try it! Find a friend and learn to speak and write Pig Latin together. Who was the best at speaking Pig Latin?