Are onomatopoeias the same in all languages?
The word Onomatopoeia is used to describe the process of developing a word that phonetically mimics, resembles, or suggests the sound. Oxford online dictionary defines onomatopoeia as the “formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named”. Across different languages, sounds and noises can be very different, such as animal sounds or sounds made when consuming food or drinks, coughing, snoring and yawning.
Translators are inevitably facing issues with onomatopoeia when creating target texts. Compared to normal words, onomatopoeia seems to be more unique as their forms are closely linked with the meanings. It is clear that ordinary words cannot express the inventive, lively, and picturesque meanings the same way as onomatopoeic words may.
Here are some examples to get us started:
Onomatopoeias translated from languages around the world
Snoring and Yawning Onomatopoeia in Translation
Baby crying and Screaming Onomatopoeia in Translation
|Chinese/ Cantonese||哇哇 (waa waa)||哎呀 (aai jaa)|
|Chinese/ Mandarin||哇哇 (wā wā)||啊 (ā), 噢 (ō), 哎呀 (āiyā), |
|English||wah-wah||ah, arghh ow, ouch, yeow, |
yow, agh, eek, yikes, oof
|French||ouin ouin||aïe, ouille, ayoye|
|German||wäh-wäh||au, aua, ah, autsch|
|Korean||응애-응애 (eung’ae-eung’ae)||아 (a), 아야 (aya), 꺄 (kkya)|
|Russian||уа-уа (ua-ua)||ой (oj), ай (aj), ох (okh)|
Cats and Dogs Onomatopoeia in Translation
|Language||Cat Meowing||Dog Barking|
|Chinese/ Cantonese||喵喵 (mēu-mēu)||㕵㕵 (wōu-wōu)|
|Chinese/ Mandarin||喵 (miāo)||汪汪 (wāng wāng)|
|Czech||mňau [mɲau]||haf haf|
|French||miaou||ouah ouah, ouaf ouaf, |
|English||miaow (UK), meow (US)||woof, arf, bow wow, |
yap yap, yip yip
|Korean||야옹 (yaong)||멍멍 (meong meong)|
|Japanese||ニャー (nyā)||ワンワン (wan wan)|
Birds Onomatopoeia in Translation
|Language||Chicken Clucking||Rooster crowing|
|Chinese/ Cantonese||咯咯 (gok4 gok1)||咯咯咯咯 (gok4 gok1 gok3 gok6)|
|Chinese/ Mandarin||咯咯 (gē gē)||咕咕咕 (gū gū gū)|
|English||cluck cluck, bawk bawk, |
bok bok bok, bok bok b’gawk,
|cock a doodle doo|
|French||cot cot cot, cot cot codet||cocorico|
|German||gack gack gack, guaguagua||kikeriki|
|Korean||꼬꼬댁 (kko kko daek)||꼬꼬댁 꼬꼬 (kkokkodaek kko), |
|Thai||กุ๊ก ๆ (kuk kuk)||เอ้กอี๊เอ้กเอ้ก (ek-i-ek-ek)|
Check out the video below to hear some fun onomatopeia in different languages:
Onomatopoeia in translation at GoLocalise
As a dedicated audiovisual translation company based in London, GoLocalise aims to deliver high quality translations powered by many translation technologies. We surely pay attention to details like for instance, the translations of onomatopoeia so that the target reader does not get confused.
In one of the translation projects on a film trailer we have done, we came accross the word “BOKAAAM!”. After checking in with the client regarding that, it is confirmed that the word is a graphic that refers to an explosion sound effect. We then requested our experienced linguists to find the most suitable expressions in their native languages. As expected, the translation results varied, for example, “BOKAAAM!” becomes “轰隆 (Hong Long)” in Chinese, “PANG!” in Swedish, “БУМ!” in Russian, and “קאבום!” in Hebrew.
You can see how different translations from one language to another can be! This can suggest that translation is always subject to context, and onomatopoeia in translation is no exception. Finding a competent translation service provider that delivers high quality content can be tricky. At GoLocalise, we carefully study the materials we receive, and work with the client to figure out what they want as final products. We do not only work fast to meet the deadline, but also keep our clients updated throughout the project. Our linguists are all professional in their domains, they have the experience and expertise to carry out a wide range of complex translation tasks for you. We always work responsibly, carefully and diligently, protecting your confidentiality at all times.
Onomatopoeia Fun Fact:
Did you know that in almost every languages, the sound a cow makes starts with “m” except in Urdu (speakers of this language hear “beah”)?
Enjoyed this blog? Check out a similar blog on Translation of language quirks and idiosyncrasies. Or check out our previous blog on English Subtitles and Differences In Spoken and Written Language.
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