NZTC International Word of the Week: prääks
The many different words we use to imitate the sounds animals make are more a reflection of the varieties and the constraints of human sounds and speech than a true reproduction of animal sounds. Here are just a few examples of the range of multilingual sounds that have evolved for various animals:
Frogs: kerokero, brekeke, gae-gool, kum kum, kwaak, ribbit, cra cra, vrak
Pigs: buu, hunk, knor, nöff, oink, groin groin, hrgu-hrgu
And why do the sounds for a rooster crowing range from cock-a-doodle-do in English to kikiriki (Spanish) and kokekokkō (Japan)?
Do animal families sound the same and humans hear them as different sounds? Or do animals actually ‘speak’ differently depending on where they live? We know that birds from different regions have different calls, but to what extent do dogs’ barks vary by country and breed – and even from one dog to another?
The way we communicate with animals also reflects the seemingly limitless diversity of human language patterns. For instance, when we want a cat to come to us we say in different languages: kissar-kissar, poes poes, here kitty kitty, kis-kis, bi biss, mietz mietz, cic-cic, pissy-pissy etc etc.
These onomatopoeic words are usually some of the first sounds that children learn, so they are deeply ingrained in our linguistic memories.
For more on this fascinating field, visit what is claimed to be the world's biggest multilingual list of onomatopoeic animal-related terms, thanks to the diligent work of its compiler, Professor Derek Abbott of The University of Adelaide: http://www.eleceng.adelaide.edu.au/Personal/dabbott/animal.html
And for some beautifully executed pictorial versions of animal sounds in other languages, see the works of illustrator James Chapman from Manchester, England. (chapmangamo.tumblr.com)