November 30, 2015

Words of the Month - What Does the Heifer Say?

        Onomatopoeia - the word itself is a source of such pleasure to children learning poetic terms!  But I’ve always found additional pleasure in the fact that although onomatopoeia is supposed to represent the real-world sounds of things, it varies so widely between different languages.  Spanish dogs really do speak a different language from English ones, at least according to their people.  Dogs, indeed, have a wide variety of dialects, including
Albanian - hum hum
Arabic - haw haw                                     Polish - chau
Catalan - bub                                             Russian - gav gav
Cantonese - wong                                     Spanish - guau
Hindi - bho bho                                         Thai - hong hong
Indonesian - guk or gong
Japanese - (small dog) kian kian, (larger dog) wan wan

        Interestingly, although the barking of dogs varies widely, most of the world seems to hear the mewing of cats in pretty much the same way.  A few, including Japanese, begin with n, and  Korean cats apparently say yaong, which must be more of a yowl.  But the Korean dogs make up for it by mewing meong meong!
        At Thanksgiving every year I start thinking about animals in different countries around the world, because every year we donate farm animals through Heifer International.  So this year I thought I’d look up what some of those animals will be saying.  At first I really tried to match up the animals and the languages of the countries to which Heifer sends them, but that turned out to be too difficult.  So while I certainly have some of those pairings here, I’ve also included other languages for which I could find interesting data.


        First, the heifers themselves.  Cows, like cats, seem to speak a pretty similar language around the world.  English-speaking cows in Uganda say moo, while Russian-speaking cows say mu-u-u, and Spanish-speaking cows in Honduras say muuu.  But Urdu-speaking cows break the trend with baeh, and Bengali-speaking cows say hambaa!
        Goats and sheep sound fairly similar to each other.  In English the difference is generally perceived to be that sheep bleat with a b, while goats bleat with an m, and this is also true in Russian and Thai, but in Spanish and French both sheep and goats start their words with b, and in German both start with m.
        Ducks, unlike cows or sheep, have a lot of fun variation around the world.
Vietnamese - cạp                                      Danish - rap
Russian - krya                                           Romanian - mac
Spanish - cua                                             Estonian - prääks
Urdu - quak                                               Turkish - vak
Hungarian - háp                                       Thai - kab or kap or gâap
French - coin                                              Bulgarian - paa

        So do pigs.
French (don’t forget this includes countries such as Senegal and Cameroon) - groin-groin
Thai - khrok (or uut)                              Cantonese - heng
Vietnamese -  ụt                                      Japanese - boo boo
Russian - hrgu-hrgu                              Dutch - knor knor
Spanish - oinc                                          Danish - øf

        And finally, bees.  Languages in which bees sound like buzzz or bzzz include English, Armenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Hebrew, Hungarian, Latvian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, and Urdu.  Clearly we’re onto something, here!  Turkish is a very close vzzz, while Italian, Marathi, and Tagalog are simply zzzz and Russian is zh-zh-zh.  Finnish bees sound like surr, and German and Greek go with a zumm sound, perhaps a cross between the buzz and a hum.  But Asian bees tend to take a wholly different tack, with humming nasal sounds instead.  What fun!
Mandarin - wēng wēng                         Korean - boong
Indonesian - nguing                               Thai - hung hung
Japanese - bun

        I feel the need to add the caveat that I have personal experience of very few of these languages and words.  I’ve gathered most of them from around the internet, and for many of them I found variations in spelling and in form.  Keep in mind that these are the sort of word that tends to be much less “official” and “correct” than many words, and thus allows for much greater latitude.  Consider the possibilities in English: cows invariably say moo, but dogs can say woof, arf, bow wow, yip, yap, and ruff ruff, which is quite a range even just within one language.  No wonder there’s such a range around the whole world!
        Does thinking about these animal sounds in different languages make you happy?  If they please you, just imagine how happy they would make someone for whom the sound of a cow or ducks in the yard might mean the difference between malnutrition and health, between poverty and sufficiency, or between keeping their children at chores all day or sending them to school.  Consider sharing these happy animal noises around the world this holiday season by donating to Heifer International.

[Pictures: Holstein, wood engraving by Thomas Bewick from A General History of Quadrupeds, 1790 (Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library);
cover illustration, wood block print by Mary Azarian from A Farmer’s Alphabet, 1981;
Vrow Zittend naar Rechts, een koe Melkend (Woman seated facing right, Milking a Cow), woodcut by Jan Mankes, 1914 (Image from William P Carl Fine Prints).]

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