XIV. LANGUAGE GAMES
Children have always played verbal games on cold and rainy days, when they could not be outside. In our traditional rural society where there was no television, those games were also used “to kill time” when there was nothing else to do.
Children would play at these games in the school or church porches, in the halls and kitchens of their homes, with adults occasionally joining in, or anywhere else out of the bad weather.
These games are today encouraged at school and particularly by the parents, as they are quieter and more sedentary, while fostering the diction and enriching the vocabulary and wit of the children. They are usually games for both sexes, with more girls taking part as they are usually better at them.
Those pastimes range from stringing words together that begin with the last syllable of the preceding word, telling tall tales and tongue-in-cheek rhymes, to tongue twisters and cryptic languages to misleading people eavesdropping.
Group verbal skills
This is the most common name given to a game mainly played in Bizkaia, Álava and less so in Navarra. In general, each participant is given a number, except for the one running the game who is called abuela [grandmother] (Salcedo-A), amo del gato [cat’s master] (Mendiola-A), ama del gato [cat’s,mistress] (Bilbao-B) or padre cura [priest father] (Allo-N). The children sit in the circle and the leader starts the game by saying the refrain according to the location. One refrain goes:
- En el convento de Santa Clara
- había un gato ni muy gordo ni muy flaco
- que lo comió el X bellaco.
- [In St. Clara’s convent, there was a cat who wasn’t very fat or very thin, who was eaten by X rogue]
That person answers: “You are lying rouge”, and the leader asks: “Who ate it then?”. That person then gives the number of another rogue. The questions and accusations are made faster and faster until someone fails to answer in time and is eliminated. The rouges left must not give eliminated numbers or they will also be eliminated.
This, and the next game, “Chinese Whispers”, also needs a group of children, but these games, unlike the previous ones, are not competitive, or if there is any type of encouragement, something nearly always found in children’s games, there is not a great deal of rivalry.
“Tall tales” is the name used in most of the places surveyed. In Hondarribia (G), it is called “Answers and questions”. It is a game for both girls and boys, where the players, of which there is no fixed number, are in a circle. A player starts the round by whispering a question to the person on their right, who answers in the same way. The person questioned then asks a question to the player on their right and so on around the circle. Everyone has to remember the question asked and the answer given.
Once the round, each participant must say out aloud what they were asked and how they were answered. For example: “X asked me what underpants are used for and Y told me to see better”.
In general, the game consists of organising the participants in a circle or in a row, so that one player can whisper a message to the player of their right, who then passes it on to the person next to them and so on to the end of the row or when the messages gets back to the person who started the game. The message usually consists of a short word or phrase and is usually passed on in a way that makes it hard to understand. The children find it funny as the initial message does not usually have anything to do with the one that reaches the last person.
Individual verbal skills games: tongue twisters
Tongue twisters have a special place in their own right and their use is so widespread that that it is hard to find anywhere where they are not known. The more skilful children find it hard to see how the others get in a twist and make mistakes.
All children like to have secret conservations and boast that others cannot understand them. This practice is as widespread in Basque as in Spanish and was discovered, with small variations, everywhere surveyed.
The most common method consists of adding “ti” “pi” “te” or “pe” to each syllable of the message to be passed on. Speaking fast makes it sound even more like gibberish.
Children frequently play by only using a single vowel: “Canda Farnanda Saptama bataba palatán” instead of “Cuando Fernando séptimo botaba peloton” [When Fernando the Seventh bounced the ball].