The Sounds Animals Make Depend on the Language You Speak

Philosophers have long pondered whether a tree makes any sound if it falls and there is no one around to hear it. A more appropriate question might be what sound it would make if it fell in a different country. More accurately, what would it sound like to those who speak different languages? If English is your native tongue, you interpret the sound of a falling tree as a “crash.” For Lithuanians, the same event is a “bumpt.” The French hear a “bing,” and an Afrikaans speaker perceives a “kadoef.”

As detailed in this article, the sound a dog makes to communicate varies greatly depending on what language is being used to convey the sound. To the English speaker, a dog’s primary sound is a “bark.” To the Ukrainian ear, the same sound is a “dzyau.”

When a word that describes a sound is an approximation of the sound itself, it is known as an onomatopoeia. No one is entirely sure why language should make any difference in the way we try to articulate these sounds, but it definitely is a factor. Something as powerful as the sound of a cannon, for example, is conveyed in English as “Boom!” Mandarin Chinese, however, describes it as “ping” (乒).

Thanks to Derek Abbott at the University of Adelaide, we can see how the sounds made by animals are interpreted in various languages. Here are a few. For the full list, follow this link.

Animal SoundDanishDutchEnglishFinnishFrenchGermanGreekHebrewHungarianItalianJapanesePortugeseRussianSpanishSwedishTurkishUrdu
Bee droningbzzzbuzzbuzz/bzzzbzzbzzzsumm summzoum zoumbzzzbzzzzzzzboon boon zh-zh-zhbzzzbuzz buzzvizzzbzzz
Bird (small)pip-piptjiepcheep/chirp/chirrup/peeppiip piep pieptsiou tsioutziff-tziffcsip-csiripchippee pee/pii pii fiyt-fiyt pip-pipjiyk jiyk 
Bird (medium)dit kari jay sige lige sa tit son jay vol cheep cheep/tweettsirk/piipcui cuitschiwitttsiou tsiou csiripchip pio pío píopip-pipjuyk juyk 
Bird (big)  squawkkvak  kra kra  hihihi/chip (loudly)  ouh-ouh    
Bird (many birds)  warble/twitter      chip chip       
Camel nuzzing  grumph         ga-a-a-a-h    
Cat mewingmiavmiauwmeowmiaumiaoumiaumiaoumiyaumiaumiaunyan nyan/nyaa nyaa miyaumiaomjan mjanmiyavmeow
Cat purringpierrprrrpurrhrrronronsrr  dorombpurrgoro goro mrrrrrr   
Chaffinch  pink              
Chicken (hen) clucking tok tokcluck cluckkot-kotcotcotcodettock tockko ko ko/ka ka kachuck-chuckkot kotcoccodéku-ku-ku-ku/ko-ko-ko-ko ko-ko-kocaca-racá/cocorocó/ock-ockgut gut gdak 
Rooster (cock) crowingkykylikykukelekucock-a-doodle-dookukko kiekuucocoricokikerikikikiriku/kikirikicoo-koo-ri-kookukurikuchicchirichíko-ke-kok-ko-ocucurucukukarekuquiquiriquí/kikirikikuckelikukuk-kurri-kuuuu uru uuu (pron: oo-oore-oo)kuklooku
Chick (baby chicken)pip-pippiep piepcheep/peeppiippiou pioupiep piepko ko ko csip-csippio piopiyo piyo pi-pi-pipi-pipip-pipjiyk jiyktsik-tsik
Cow lowing moe/boemooammuu/möö (calf)meuhmmuuhmoomoomumuumau mau mu-u-umuuu/meeemu mumooo (pron: meuh)baeh
Cow/Bull (angry) snorting snurksnortpärsk     pfff   buff   
Crane  clang              
Crocodile (biting) klapsnap clapklap   gnam   clap/clack   
Crow cawingkra-krakra krakaak/cawkraa/vaakcroa croakräh krähkra-krakrak-krakkár-kárcra crakar-kar kar-karah ahkra kragaak gaak 
Cuckoo koekoekcuckookukkuucoucoukuckuck cuckookakukkcucúkakko-kakko/tokkyo-kyoka-kyoku (baby cuckoo) ku-kucu-cuko-ko  
Deer  troat              
Donkey braying i-ahee haw/eeyore hihaniaah iaahiaa iaayi-ahiá-iáioh ioh  ia-iaiha iha/ji-jo a-iiii a-iiii 
Dog barking (small dog)vov-vov (in a high voice)waf wafyap yap/arf arfhau hauouah ouah (in a high voice)wau wau
(in a high voice)
 how-howvau vauarf arf/bau baukian kian hav-hav/gav-gavguau/guabjäbb-bjäbbhev hev 
Dog barking (medium dog)vov-vovwoef woefwoof woof/ruff ruffvuffouah ouahwau waugav gavwoof-woofvau vaubau bauwan wan hav-hav/gav-gavguavvov-vov/voffhauv hauv 
Dog barking (big dog)vov-vov (in a low voice) bow wowvuff/roufouah ouah (in a low voice)wuff wuff  vau vaubau bauwan wan hav-hav/gav-gavguf guf hov hovbow bow
Dog (biting)  gnash/snapnaps     gnamgari gari  chac   
Dog (gnawing bone)knor chomp/chump/gnaw  chrong    paku paku chua-chua  haart haart 

3 replies »

  1. This was fun! When still living in Australia, my Japanese friend and I used to read little kids books to our offspring and realized by oursevelves that animals make completely different noises in English, German and Japanese 🙂
    I believe it works the other way around, too. Our cat from Egypt (long story that) adapted a miau that sound like the German ‘hunger’ for when she wants treats. Love your fun facts!!

    Liked by 1 person

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