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!
|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