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A language game (also called secret language or ludling or argot) is a system of manipulating spoken words to render them incomprehensible to the untrained ear. Language games are used primarily by groups attempting to conceal their conversations from others. Some common examples are Pig Latin; the Gibberish family, prevalent in the United States and Sweden; and Verlan, spoken in France.
A common difficulty with language games is that they are usually passed down orally; while written translations can be made, they are often imperfect, and thus spelling can vary widely. Some factions argue that words in these spoken tongues should simply be written the way they are pronounced, while others insist that the purity of language demands that the transformation remain visible when the words are imparted to paper.
Language games are primarily used by children to disguise their speech from others, which in most cases are parental figures. Some language games such as Pig Latin are so widely known that privacy is virtually impossible, as most people have a passable understanding of how it works and the words can sound very similar to their English counterpart. Although language games are not usually used in everyday conversation, some words from language games have made their way into normal speech, such as ixnay in English (from Pig Latin), and loufoque in French (from Louchébem).
One way in which language games could be organized is by language, for example, Pig Latin, Ubbi Dubbi, and Tutnese could all be in the "English" category, and Jeringonza could be in the "Spanish" category.
An alternate method of classifying language games is by their function. For example, Ubbi Dubbi, Bicycle, and sv:Allspråket all work by inserting a code syllable before the vowel in each syllable. Therefore, these could be classified in the Gibberish family. Also, Double Talk, Língua do Pê, Jeringonza, and B-Sprache all work by adding a consonant after the vowel in each syllable, and then repeating the vowel. Thus, these could be classified in the Double Talk family. Another common type of language game is the spoonerism, in which the onsets of two words are exchanged. Using a standard word for each transformation gives another type, for example, the Finnish "kontinkieli", where kontti is added after each word, and spoonerism applied (kondäntti koonerismspontti koppliedäntti).
List of common language games
|Host Language||Name||Basic Rules||Notes|
|Afrikaans||Emmer-taal||Insert "mer" at the end of each word. Longer words that consists of joined words are often broken into two or more words with the "mer" sound inserted in the middle and at the end.||Example.
Daar onder in die vlei stap 'n mannetjie → Damer ommer immer diemer vleimer stammer immer mammer-tjiemmer.
|Afrikaans||P-taal||Insert "Əp" before the first vowel of each syllable. Syllables with stacked consonants may follow additional rules.||Writing generally depicts the sounds instead the original letters.
Daar onder in die vlei stap 'n mannetjie → Depaar epondeper epen depie vlepei stepap epe mepannepekepie.
|Albanian||"Të folurit me f" (Speaking with F)||All vowels are doubled, and "f" is placed between them.||Spoken mostly by kids and teenagers between their friends. Dialectal patterns are observed in some areas. Example: "Ç'do bëjmë tani? (What are we going to do now? in the Tosk dialect)" becomes "Çdofo bëfëjmëfë tafanifi?".|
|Amharic||Yäwof q'uanq'ua ('bird language') and Yägra quanqua ('language of the left'). There is also another form with more complex rules.||Yäwof q'uanq'ua: Duplicate each syllable, replacing the initial consonant with "z" in the duplicate.; for Yägra quanqua the last syllable moves to the front of the word.||Yäwof q'uanq'ua: säbbärä 'he broke' becomes säzäbbäzäräzä; Yägra quanqua: mätt'a 'he came' -> t'ämma|
|Bengali||Insert "faado" at the end of each syllable. Additional rules may apply to note the end of a word.||Example: the word 'Aami" (I or me) would be stated as Aa-faado-Mi-faado spoken very fast.|
|Bulgarian||Pileshki||Insert "pi" before each syllable. Though simple, when spoken quickly words become nearly incomprehensible. Often called "chicken language" because it mimics the sounds fledgelings make. Pileshko means "chicken" in Bulgarian.||куче becomes пикупиче|
|Burmese||Ban Zaga/Thor Zagar||Thor Zagar: Put Thor at the end of each word and change the consonant of the first and last word.||Example: achit → achor thit|
|Cantonese||S-language||Repeat each syllable changing the initial consonant to /s/||Used by children and teenagers to avoid understanding by adults.|
|Cebuano||Kinabayo ('horse language')||Mimics the sound of a horse's gallop. For every occurrence of a vowel, the following rule is followed: (the vowel)+'g'+(the vowel)+'d'+(the vowel).||"Ani-a ang salapi" becomes "Agadanigidi-agada agadang sagadalagadapigidi"|
|Chinese||Huizongyu or Qiekou or Fanqie||Split one syllable into two: the first syllable represents the onset of the original word, the second represents the final||Derives from the fanqie system (a traditional way of indicating the pronunciation of a Chinese character through using two other characters). Example: ni hao → ningni heng hao|
|Danish||"P-language"||All vowels are doubled, and a 'p' inserted between the doubled vowels.||Rules are identical to Swedish P-language|
|Danish||"Røversprog"||All consonants are doubled, and an 'o' inserted between the doubled consonants.||Rules are identical to Icelandic Goggamál|
|Dutch||Reversed elements and words.||A mercantile code|
|Dutch||P-taal||Insert "Əp" before the first vowel of each syllable. Syllables with stacked consonants may follow additional rules.||Writing generally depicts the sounds instead the original letters.
Daar op straat staat een mannetje → Depaar epop epin depie strepaat stepaat epen mepannepetjepe.
|Dutch||Okki-taal||Add -okki to any consonant, and replace vowels with a number corresponding to the order of vowels in the alphabet (e.g. a → 1, e → 2, etc.)
Ex. example → 2 xokki 1 mokki pokki lokki 2.
|Popular children's game.|
|Dutch||Panovese Kal||Mixing characters in a particular way.||Used in Kortessen, Limburg, ca. 1900.
Ex. "Onze vader die in de hemelen zijt" → "Onze zeder die in de vamelen hijt".
|English (etc.)||Pig Latin||Move the onset of the first syllable to the end of each word, and add "ay" //.||When a word starts with a vowel (there is no onset), you simply add "ay", "way", "yay", or "hay" (depending on the variant) at the end.|
|English (etc.)||Ubbi Dubbi (or Obby Dobby)||Insert "ob" // or "ub" // before the rime of each syllable.||Also called Pig Greek; part of the Gibberish family|
|English||Cockney rhyming slang||Canonical rhyming word pairs; speakers often drop the second word of common pairs.||wife → trouble [and strife]; stairs → apples [and pears]|
|English||Gibberish||Insert ("itherg" for words 1 to 3 letters, "itug" for words with 4 to 6 letters, and "idig" for words with 7+ letters) after the first consonant in each syllable.||Gibberish is also a family of related language games.|
|English||Inflationary English||Any time a number is present within a word, inflate its value by one.||"Anyone up for tennis?" becomes "Anytwo up five elevennis?" Originally part of a comedy sketch by Victor Borge.|
|English||-izzle||Insert "-izzle" after a word's last pre-vowel consonant while discarding the remaining letters.||Mizzle Christmizzle. (Merry Christmas)|
|English||Back slang||Formed by speaking words backwards; where necessary, anagrams may be employed to aid pronunciation.||Used by butchers in Australia to conceal details of shop talk from customers.|
|English||Spoonerism||Formed by swapping prominent sounds, usually the first letters, of consecutive words.||For example, "The pig is sick" becomes "The sig is pick", "she nicked my pose" becomes "she picked my nose", "light a fire" becomes "fight a liar".|
|English||Tutnese||Spell out words using a lexicon of names for consonants, and special rules for double letters.||How are you? - Hashowack arure yuckou?|
|Esperanto||Esperant'||Replaces the accusative with the preposition je, and the final -o of nouns with an apostrophe, all while keeping to the letter of official grammar if not actual usage.||"Oni ĉiam obeu la Fundamenton" becomes "Ĉiamu onia obe' je l' Fundament'"|
|Filipino / Tagalog||Binaliktad ('Inverted')||Exchange first and last syllable of any two-syllable word. Prefix last syllable onto first syllable and affix the first syllable after the second to last one in any word more than two syllables. Sometimes "s" is added to certain words for stylistic effect.||Ex: Hindi (No) becomes Dehins (e and i are allophones in Philippine languages). S added as stylistic feature.
Sigarilyo (taken from Spanish term Cigarillo) becomes Yosi (last and first syllable, middle syllables omitted). Katulong (Domestic helper) becomes Lóngkatuts (last syllable prefixed, other syllables moved along. t affixed as means of differentiating word from subsequent ones. s is added as stylistic feature. Also applicable to English words like Father and Mother, which become Erpats and Ermats.
|Finnish||Sananmuunnos||Spoonerism: swap first morae of words||Apply vowel harmony according to the initial syllable, repair "broken diphthongs" into permitted diphthongs|
|Finnish||Kontinkieli||Add word 'kontti' after each word and apply the same conversion as in sananmuunnos.||Finnish counterpart of Pig Latin. This game is also called siansaksa ('Pig German'), which is a common expression for unintelligible gibberish.|
|Finnish||A-Kieli (A-language)||Replace every vowel with the vowel "a".||For example: "Mitä sä teet" becomes "Mata sa taat"|
|French||Louchébem||Move the initial consonant to the end and add '-em' (the suffix may be different in other varieties). Prepend 'l' ('L') to the base word.||Initially a Parisian/Lyonnaise butchers' cant. example: parler → larlepem|
|French||Verlan||Inverted syllables, often followed by truncation and other adjustments.||Examples: racaille [Raˈkaj] → caillera [kajˈʀa]; noir [nwaʀ] → renoi [ʀəˈnwa]; arabe [aˈʀab] → beur [bəʀ]; femme [fam] → meuf [məf]|
|French||Jargon||Each vowel is replaced by "adaga" for A, "edegue" for E, "odogo" for O etc...|
|French||Javanais||Insertion of 'av' between consonants and vowels...|
|French||Loght el V||After every vowel, insertion of 'v', then the vowel.||An Egyptian "dialect" of Javanais, used by children and teenagers in French speaking schools in Cairo to avoid understanding by adults (specially by teachers).|
|German||'Lav' inserted after some vowel sounds.|
|German||B-Language||Each vowel or diphthong is reduplicated with a leading 'b'.||"Deutsche Sprache" → "Deubeutschebe Sprabachebe"|
|German||Löffelsprache (spoon language)||Each (spoken) vowel or diphthong is reduplicated with a leading 'lef', 'lew' or 'lev'.||"Hallo! Wie geht es dir?" → "Halewallolewo! Wielewie geleweht elewes dilewir?" Also possible with other languages: "Don't try to take me to New York!" → "Dolevon't trylevy tolevo tailevaik meleve tolevo Newlevew/Newlevoo Yolevork!"|
|Greek||Podaná||Similar to the Spanish vesre.||"Γκόμενα" -> "Μεναγκό" "Φραγκα" -> "Γκαφρα"|
|Greek||Korakistika||Insert "k" and the vowel(s) of the original syllable after each syllable||"Kalimera" → "Kaka liki meke raka"|
|Greek||Splantziana||The vowels of each word are place before the consonants.||Examples: στόμα → όσταμ ; άριστα → άϊραστ
Also used in Crete and Khania
|Hakka||Yuantang dialect||Each consonant and vowel is replaced by a Hakka word. Similar to fanqie spellings.||食饭 [sit fan] → 手习花散 [siu jit fa san] → [s(iu) (j)it f(a) (s)an]|
|Hebrew||Bet-Language||Identical to the German B-Language described above.||A song that won the Eurovision Song Contest was titled "A-Ba-Ni-Bi", based on this game.|
|Hungarian||Madárnyelv (birds' language)||Repeat each vowel and add 'v'||A variety of Gibberish (e.g. látok I see → lávátovok)|
|Hungarian||Madárnyelv (birds' language)||Repeat each vowel and add 'rg'||(e.g. látok I see → lárgátorgok)|
|Hungarian||Kongarian||Add 'ko' before each syllable||(e.g. látok I see → kolákotok)|
|Hungarian||Verzin||Syllable order is inverted.||Hungarian version of "verlan". (e.g. hátra backwards → rahát)|
|Indonesian||Bahasa G||Repeat each vowel and add G.||For example, the sentence "Belajar itu susah" becomes "begelagajagar igitugu sugusagah."|
|Indonesian||Bahasa Oke||Take only the first syllable of a word and replace the vowel with oke, oka or oki.||For example, "Buku" becomes "Bokeku", "Bokaku", or "Bokiku".|
|Italian||Latino Maccheronico||(see below: Romance languages, Macaronic Latin)|
|Italian||Alfabeto farfallino||Add 'Fx' after all syllables. x is the vowel in the corresponding syllable of the real word. ex.: ciao → ciafaofo (cia-FA-o-FO)||By applying the same 'rule' to the English word hello, we would obtain: he-FE-llo-FO|
|Icelandic||Goggamál||Consonants are changed to '<consonant> o <consonant>'. The 'o' is pronounced as in "hot".||Example: Icelandic: "Hvernig hefur þú það?" → "Hohvoverornonigog hohefofuror þoþú þoþaðoð?"
English: "How are you doing?" → "Hohowow arore yoyou dodoinongog?"
|Luo||Dhochi||In two syllable words, the syllables exchanging positions (a), in words of three syllables the second and third syllable exchange positions (b), and in one syllable words the first and last consonants exchange places (c).||(a) ŋgɛgɛ -> gɛŋgɛ ‘tilapia’, (b) apwɔyɔ -> ayɔpwɔ ‘hare’, (c) čiɛk -> kiɛč ‘short’|
|Latvian||Pupiņvaloda (bean language)||Every vowel in the word, except for diphthongs, is repeated, inserting a "p" before the repeated vowel. For example, "a" would be "apa", "e" becomes "epe" and so forth. In diphthongs, this is only done with the first vowel.||E.g. "valoda" becomes "vapalopodapa", while "Daugava" becomes "Dapaugapavapa"|
|Japanese||Babigo||Same as Double Talk or Spanish Idioma F||Example: put "b" plus vowel between syllables, "waba taba shibi waba" instead of "watashi-wa"|
|Khmer||Pheasa Krolors (ភាសាក្រលាស់; Switching-tones language)||Switch the tones of the first and last syllables in a word or phrase||Example: Change "pheasa" (Khmer: Language)to "phasea"
Invented by teenagers for mostly affecting a meaning from a normal word/phrase to an obscene one.
|Korean||Gwisin Mal (귀신말; ghost language) / Dokkaebi Mal (도깨비말; Ogre language)||Put "s plus vowel" or "b plus vowel" between syllables.||Example 1: "Yasa! Neoseo! Jasal gasa (야사! 너서! 자살 가사)" instead of "Ya! Neo! Jal ga (야! 너! 잘 가; Hey! You! Good bye)"
Example 2: "Neoseo neoseomusu yeseppeoseo (너서 너서무수 예세뻐서)" instead of "Neo neomu yeppeo (너 너무 예뻐; you are so pretty)"
|Macedonian||Папагалски / Parrotish||Put "P" (п) after every vowel and repeat the vowel again.||Example: "Ова е Википедиjа" becomes "Оповапа епе Випикипипедипијапа"|
|Malay||Bahasa F||After each syllable, add 'f' and repeat last vowel.||"Kau nak pergi mana tu, Linda?" → "Kaufau nakfak perfergifi mafanafa tufu Linfindafa?"
Invented in the early 1990s in Malaysian primary schools, it was mostly used by girls for gossiping. In 1998, the Malay romantic comedy film, Puteri Impian 2, pushed this language into the limelight of Malaysian popular culture.
|Malay||Ke-an||Add the circumfix "ke-...-an" to every word rendering them all nouns or noun-like. Words with affixes are stripped to their root words first.||Used for amusement rather than to encrypt, as results are easily understood and some changes drastically affect meaning.
"Kenapa kau selalu buat begitu? Kau tidak rasa malukah?" → "Kekenapaan kekauan keselaluan kebuatan kebegituan? Kekauan ketidakan kerasaan kemaluan?" ("malu": shame; "kemaluan": private parts)
|Malay||"Half lang"||The last syllable, excluding its first consonant, is dropped from a 2- or 3-syllable word; similarly, the last two are dropped from a 4- or 5-syllable word.
Variation: Add an 's' to each "halved" word as well.
|"susu besar" → "sus bes"; "gunung tinggi" → "gun ting"; "Kenapa kau selalu buat begitu?" → "Kenaps kau selals buat begits?"|
|Marathi||"Cha-Bhasha"||The first phoneme is replaced by "cha" and the dropped sound is added after the word.
Variation: only nouns are encoded.
|"Dhungan dukhtay kaa?" → "Changandhu chakhtaydu chaak?";
Variation: "Dhungan dukhtay kaa?" → "Changandhu dukhtay kaa?"
|Norwegian||Røverspråk||Write each consonant twice with an "o" in the middle.||No: "Slik snakker man røverspråk på norsk." → Soslolikok sosnonakokkokeror momanon rorøvoverorsospoproråkok popå nonororsoskok.
En: "This is how you speak røverspråk in Norwegian." → Tothohisos isos hohowow you sospopeakok rorøvoverorsospoproråkok inon nonororwowegogianon.
|Oromo||Afan Sinbira ('bird language')||Two basic kinds: syllable insertion and final syllable fronting||Syllable insertion, with either "s" or "g" and an echo vowel: dirre 'field' -> disirrese
Syllable fronting, with vowel lengthening: dirre 'field' -> reedi
|Persian||Zargari||Insert the sound [z] and a copy of the previous vowel after the vowel of the syllable: e.g., mazan < man 'I'; azaz < az 'from, of'; tozo < to 'thou' (singular 'you'), etc.|
|Portuguese||Língua do Pê||After each syllable of every word in a phrase add "p" plus the preceding vowel (and a few consonants - like m, n, r, s...)||"Olá, tudo bem com você?" would rather be: "Opôlapa, tupudopô bempem compom vopocêpe?"|
|Portuguese||Língua do "i"||Each vowel is changed for an "i".||"Olá, tudo bem?" would rather be: "Ili, tidi bim?"|
|Romance languages||Macaronic Latin||Romance vocabulary is given Latinate endings.||"de Don Quijote de la Mancha" becomes "Domini Quijoti Manchegui"|
|Romanian||păsărească (birds' language)||After each syllable, add 'p' and repeat last vowel||"maşină" becomes "mapaşipinăpă"|
|Romanian||greaca vacească (cow Greek)||After each word, add 'os'||"istorie" becomes "istorieos"|
|Russian||Kirpichny yazyk (Кирпичный язык) ("Brick language" in English)||After the vowel of each syllable add 's' and repeat the vowel||durak (дурак) becomes dusurasak (дусурасак)|
|Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian||Šatrovački||Various styles of reordering syllables.||"zdravo" becomes "vozdra"|
|Serbian||Utrovački||Words are formed using: U + last part + ZA + first part + NJE.||"zdravo" becomes uvozazdranje|
|Serbian||Pig-Italian||"are" is appended to words or their roots.||"krava pase travu" becomes "kravare pasare travare"|
|Slovene||papajščina||After each vowel insert P followed by the same vowel; popular among young children.||"zdravo" becomes "zdrapavopo". Identical to Spanish jeringonza described below.|
|Somali||Af Jinni (Djinni language)||Add a consonant of your choice followed by the preceding vowel after each vowel in the word.||Example: Ahlan (meaning Hallo) has two syllables, so when used with B, it will be abahlaban (aBAh-laBAn).
En: enjoying → eBEnjoBOyiBIng, eben-jobo-yibing.
|Spanish||Idioma F||Each vowel is reduplicated with a separating 'F'.||A variant of Jeringonza|
|Spanish||Mexico City slang||Substitute a word for another that begins the same.; After each vowel, add syllable with an "F" and the vowel||Unas caguamas bien heladas → unas Kawasakis bien elásticas; Nofo sefe sifi safabefes hafablafar cofon lafa efe"|
|Spanish||Add a certain syllable before every original syllable.||"Perro" → "Tipetirro"|
|Spanish||Jeringonza Jeringozo en Argentina||Each vowel is reduplicated with a separating 'p'.||"No sabe nada" → "Nopo sapabepe napadapa"|
|Spanish||Rosarigasino (a.k.a. Gasó, from Rosario, a city in Argentina)||Add gas after stressed vowel and repeat stressed vowel.||"Don Quijote de la Mancha" → "Don Quijogasote de la Magasancha"|
|Spanish||Vesre||Syllable order is inverted.||"Muchacho" → "Chochamu"
Used in Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru
|Swedish||Allspråket||The first consonant in each word ends with 'all'.||Sv: "Hur är läget?" → Hallur ärall lalläget?
En: "How are you doing?" → Hallow aralle yallou dalloing?
|Swedish||Fikonspråket||Each word is split in two halves (or each syllable). The parts are then put in reverse order to form a new word (sometimes written as two words) started with "fi" and ended with "kon" ("Fikon" is Swedish for fig).||Sv: "Hur är läget?" → Fir hukon fir äkon figet läkon?
En: "How are you doing?" → Fiw hokon fir(e) akon fio(u) ykon fiing dokon?
|Swedish||I-sprikit||All vowels are changed to 'i'.||"Can I go to the mall?" → "Cin I gi ti thi mill?"|
|Swedish||"P-language"||All vowels are doubled, and a 'p' inserted between the doubled vowels.|
|Swedish||"Pip-svenska"||An 'e' is added before words starting with a consonant, and a 't' is added before words starting with a vowel. In every other word the vowels are doubled and an 's' is added in between them. In the other words every vowel is doubled and an "l" is added in between.||Sv: "Jag är från Sverige" - "Ejasag tälär efråsån Esveleriligele".
Eng: "I am from Sweden" - "Tisi talam efrosom Esweledelen".
|Example: Rövarspråket → Röpövaparspråpåkepet|
|Swedish||Rövarspråket||Consonants are changed to '<consonant> o <consonant>'. The 'o' is pronounced as in "hot".||Sv: "Hur är läget?" → Hohuror äror lolägogetot?
En: "How are you doing?" → Hohowow arore yoyou dodoinongog?
|Turkish||Kuş Dili (birds' language)||Each vowel is reduplicated with a separating 'g'.||"Ben okula gidiyorum" (I am going to school) becomes "Begen ogokugulaga gigidigiyogorugum"|
|Urdu (Pakistan)||Fay ki Boli||Insert "fay" (Urdu language Alphabet corresponding to the sound of 'F' in English) in the middle of each syllable (usually before the vowel—splitting the syllable into two) in each word. In some monosyllabic words, "yay" (Urdu alphabet for 'Y') is added at after fay and in reverse before completing the rest of the half.||Spoken and understood widely in Karachi (Pakistan) and Native Urdu Speakers. Fay can be replaced by most other consonants to form another variety.|
|Urdu (Pakistan)||Pay ki Boli||Insert "pay" and "noon" (Urdu language Alphabets corresponding to the sound of 'P' and 'N' respectively in English) in the middle of each syllable (usually before the vowel—splitting the syllable into two, ending first half into pay and starting the next with noon) in each word.||Not commonly known and very complex for even who know how it works, especially when spoken in fast speed, resulting in handy privacy.|
|Vietnamese||Nói lái||Switch the tones, the order of two syllables in a word or the initial consonant and rhyme of each syllable.||Example: "bầy tôi" all the king's subjects → "bồi tây" French waiter
"bí mật" secret → "bật mí" revealing secret
- Teshome Demisse and M. Lionel Bender. 1983. An argot of Addis Ababa unattached girls. Language in Society Volume 12.3: pp. 339-347.
- P.367 of Marcel Cohen. 1939. Nouvelles Etudes d'Etiopien Meridional. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honore Champion.
- p. 79, Kebbede Hordofa and Peter Unseth. 1986. "Bird Talk" in Oromo. Quaderni di Studi Etiopici 6-7:74-83
- Article on Arabic speech game
- Lyle Campbell. 1980. The Psychological and Sociological Reality of Finnish Vowel Harmony. In Issues in Vowel Harmony, edited by Robert Vago, pp. 245-270. (Studies in Language Companion Series, 6.) John Benjamins.
- p. 169, Toni Borowsky & Peter Avery. 2009. Dhochi: A Dholuo Language Game. Australian Journal of Linguistics Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 169-194.
- Āčgārnā valoda un pupiņvaloda (Latvian)
- Kebbede Hordofa and Peter Unseth. 1986. Bird Talk" in Oromo. Quaderni di Studi Etiopici 6-7:74-83
- Auflinger, Albert. 1949. Secret languages of small islands near Madang II. South Pacific 3.5: 113-119.
- English Grammar Game Find Verb, Noun.
- Language Games A long summary on language games, including descriptions of many games, and an extensive bibliography.
- Language Games - Part 2 A follow-up summary with additional descriptions and bibliography.
- Nevbosh — a language game used by J. R. R. Tolkien, the inventor of Quenya and Sindarin Elvish, as a child