Monday, March 14, 2011

Play language in play

I learned Spanish as a kid, but maybe I was a little too old for some things. I never learned the Spanish equivalent of Pig Latin. Until recently, I never even thought much about the fact that such pretend or play languages must exist in many home languages. Of course they do--in Spanish, French, Javanese, Portuguese. Indeed many of the world's languages serve as source languages for one or more play languages. I expect most, or even all, of them do--my review of the (sparse) literature has been fairly cursory so far.
I got started on this because one of the last plays my class on Argentine theater read this quarter was Claudio Tolcachir's La omisión de la familia Coleman. I was lucky enough to see the play performed in Manta, Ecuador, at the 21st Festival de Teatro Internacional in 2008. It was fast and hilarious and sad, and the jeringozo went right by me. But later, there it was on the page, generously footnoted: add a p, followed by the vowel from the previous syllable. Thus, ¿Vospo tepenéspe plapatapa? renders ¿Vos tenés plata?-- i.e., do you have any money?
Years ago, writing on representations of performance in Latin American plays, I studied game plays in which the characters play elaborate (often violent or highly manipulative) ritual games. The characters' use of jeringozo in Tolcachir's play is a game they play with each other--and with the audience. It's a fleeting game, only a few lines. Some people will get it, others may not. Some, like me, will be driven by inclination and training (deformación profesional) to follow the footnote and look things up.
Play languages can mark the in-group, conceal meaning, keep the mind and the tongue nimble. Beyond that, they reflect the abundance and excess of language that, in its very limitations, makes room for yet more abundance: even the ostensibly monolingual may need a way to hide in plain hearing, to speak an English that isn't English, a Spanish that isn't Spanish.
The icing on the cake? It seems there's a play language specifically associated with Rosario, where I'll be teaching in the fall: rosarigasino. The study abroad brochures don't mention it yet--neither do the travel books--but I'm sure they will soon.

If you want to read the play: Tolcachir, Claudio. La omisión de la familia Coleman. In Poéticas de iniciación: Nueva dramaturgia argentina, 2000-2005. Ed. Jorge Dubatti. Buenos Aires: ATUEL, 2006. 135-206.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post. One of the life roads I considered traveling ended with me as an academic in linguistics. From time to time I still like to imagine where I would be now, and doing exactly what, if I'd gone that route. I will now add to that fantasy: sociolinguist studying the role(s) of play language(s) in different cultures.