Nyaa or miao? Animal sounds across languages

How do you say “meow” in Japanese? What about “woof” in Arabic? Onomatopoeia, like all words, are just symbols shaped by the sound system of a language, so unsurprisingly, when you look at words for animal sounds across languages, you find some interesting differences. (Actually, even within a language, there are differences. Does your dog say “woof” or “ruff”?)

We asked our eTutors to provide some common animal onomatopoeia from their languages. We found out that in Japanese, ducks say “gaa gaa” while in Arabic, they say “baTbaTha” (T stands for the emphatic ‘t’). Both are pretty far from “quack, quack!” Others match up nicely with English or each other.  “Oink” translates fairly directly into Spanish (“oinc”) and Italian (“oink”) while the German and French equivalents are “grunz, grunz ” and “groin groin.” “Cock-a-doodle-doo” has competition for the strangest animal sound with the French “cocorico.” Take a look!


animal Chinese Japanese Spanish Italian French German Arabic
cat   喵呜miāowū ニャーニャー nyaa nyaa miau miao miou miau miau مواء muwaa’
dog 汪汪wāng wāng ワンワン wan wan guau bau wouaf waf wau wau نُباح nubaaH
bird  啾啾 jiū jiū チュンチュン chun chun pio pio cip- cip cui cui piep piep  زقزقة zaqzaqa
rooster 咕咕咕 gū gū gū コケコッコー kokekokkoo quiquiriquiii chicchirichí cocorico kickerieki صِياح SiyaaH
duck 呱呱呱-  guā guā guā ガーガー gaa gaa cuac cuac qua coin coin quack quack بطبطة baTbaTa
pig 五一五一 wǔ wǔ yī ブーブー buu buu oinc oinc oink groin groin grunz grunz قُباع qubaax


If you want to learn more animal sounds in other languages, check out the site Bzzspeek, where you can listen to animal onomatopoeia from all over the globe spoken by children from that country, or visit Derek Abbott’s collection of cross-linguistic animal sounds.

Photo credit: Thinkstock