According to the Glossary of Literary Terms onomatopoeia is “the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it.” Usually they describe animal noises, machine sounds or acts that make noise. Sometimes they can also express a visually effect like zig-zag.

 

We can assume that animals all around the world make the same noise- that cow mows the same way in England and in Israel; that clock makes the same clicking sound in North America and Australia. For instance, sound that cat makes is meow in English, miaou in French, miau in German, mjá in Icelandic… But, despite all this there are onomatopoeic words that don’t have the same form across all languages. Here are some examples of different animal sounds for easier overview.

 

onomatopeja

 

There is a possible explanation for these obvious distinctions. A group of linguists believe that, for instance, various spelling of frog croaking is caused by the fact that different frog species around the world make slightly different sounds. In cooperation with zoologists this group concluded that Aristophanes’ frog sounds brekekekex koax koax might come from the Europe common specie Pelophylax ridibundus also known as the Marsh Frog. On the other hand, Kermit the Frog, who is famous for his ribbit, ribbit sounds on The Muppet Show could belong to Lithobates catesbeianus or the Bull Frog while Michigan J. Frog. from One Froggy Evening based on his lazy croak could be Rana temporaria or the European common frog.

 

For those of you who want to learn more about onomatopoeic words in different languages here is a list of Cross-linguistic onomatopoeias on Wikipedia.


Comments (6)
2 years ago
Sarah

I've also often wondered why animal sounds are "different" depending on the human language spoken there. I like your compilation of sounds, I'm glad there was no one around as I was saying them aloud to hear the differences. Smile

2 years ago
Lise Capitan

Great post today. Thanks for sharing Aleksandra!

I did not know about the wiki page, this should be useful to me as I sometimes find strange English onomatopeias in the video games I work on. It's not always easy to know what the character means (when it's not an animal of course ;)).

2 years ago
Aleksandra
Aleksandra

@Sarah

I was also saying all the words out loud  when I was writing post, to make sure there are differences. Fortunately, I was alone, but I bet I sounded weird. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! Smile

@Lise

Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you find my post useful. I started to write a conference paper on this problem and than I decided to also write short blog post about it. I know what you mean, I used to work on video game localization and the Wiki list turned out to be unexpectedly useful.

2 years ago
Lisa Carter

Really fascinating post, Aleks! I remember when I was learning Spanish in Peru and spent Sundays with a family. The little girl of about 4 years old and I would read books together. The first time I saw a rooster saying "kikiriki" I wondered, "What the heck?!" Now it sounds perfectly normal to me and I like it better than the English "cockadoodledoo"!

2 years ago
peter van essen
peter van essen

I think in onomatopeias we can clearly see that writing down a language tends to petrify it.We learn our children that a cow says 'moo' or 'boo',but we loose the subtleties of the sound, no cow always 'moos' in  the same manner.
Take the bird pewit,kievit in dutch: [keevit], i heard them made both these sounds,but he/she also has another call "y-ljepljepljep!" so, what do we choose to record?

Fascinating all these  onomatopeias in different languages!

I like to study onomatopeias, as they are bits of rebellous pieces of orality in written language and are all about diversity, subtlety and creativity.

one year ago
Ana
Ana

Great blog!! You should write many more posts. I love all the info provided. I will stay tuned!