Monday, January 29, 2007

What sounds do animals make in other languages?

Who's asking: Tom Ehrenfeld, Cambridge, MA

My high school chorus had to learn Aaron Copland's "I Bought Me a Cat," which includes some unusual animal noises: the cow says, "Baw, baw;" the hen says, "Shimmy shack, shimmy shack;" the cat says, "Fiddle-eye-fee."

I have never met a cat who says "Fiddle-eye-fee," and the noise a cat makes is one that most languages actually agree on. In English it's "meow," in French it's "miaou," and in Russian it's "myau." Japanese, Korean and Indonesian make the noise with an "n" instead of an "m" -- "nyaa," "(n)ya-ong," and "ngeong," respectively, but in each case, it's easily recognizable as a cat noise.

Roosters, too, make similar noises in almost every language. English is "cock-a-doodle-do;" German is "kickeriki;" Mandarin is "gou gou." Thai roosters sound a little different: "ake-e-ake-ake," but it's still that hard "k" sound.

It's pig noises where things start to vary. English is "oink oink," but Polish is "chrum chrum," and Japanese is "buubuu." Korean is "kkool-kkool," and Norwegian is "nøff nøff."

English and American dogs say "bow wow," or "woof," but in Greece they say, "gav," and in Catalan they say, "bup, bup."

"Bup, bup"? I just tried it out on Dizzy; he opened his eyes halfway, then went back to his nap. Guess he doesn't speak Catalan.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Just started working on this piece and had the same question about the incongruent onomatopoetic character of these sounds. Ever come up with an answer?
We're doing this as an 8 person ensemble number for our upcoming Consonare Chorale concert - "Rhyme or Reason" - a program to introduce kids to choral music.