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Pyoon! Nyan! Pachi! – Learning the Japanese Onomatopoeia 1

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/18 Traditional Culture , , , , ,

Onomatopoeias are always present in any language in the world. The hiss of the snake, the clanking of the bells, the drizzling of the rain – the words in italics are just some of the onomatopoeias that can be found in an English dictionary. The Japanese language too is full of onomatopoeias. Some of them sound funny and some are hard to say.

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Onomatopoeias create a mental image on what is happening as you read/say/listen to them.(Image from Pixabay)

A word that phonetically emulates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound it describe is an onomatopoeia. Click, for example, creates a mental image that something is pushed, tapped, snapped and the like. The sounds of animals – arf, meow, hiss, are also examples of onomatopoeia.

Japanese onomatopoeias are interesting and at the same time important and flexible. They can transform into different parts of speech. They can be used as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb, or an interjection. They can be used in conversations without sounding weird and funny.

don!

ドーン! which is read as don is an example of a Japanese onomatopoeia。Its English equivalent could be the bang or the image above which is boom. (Image from AC-Illust)

Japanese Onomatopoeia

In the Japanese language, onomatopoeias are grouped into three types. Giseigo (擬声語), Giongo (擬音語), and Gitaigo (擬態語). Giseigo are those sounds that people and animals make. Other sounds that don’t fall under giseigo or sounds that are not made by man or animals, are called giongo. The third type, the gitaigo, is not precisely onomatopoeia because they are actually words that describe actions and emotions that don’t necessarily make noises.

Giseigo (擬声語)

These words are the simplest and most consistent among the three types. They are the sounds that living things make. They are simple and uncomplicated to learn that they are the first words a baby can learn. We’ve put the English equivalent below for comparison. Some of them are the same, though some of them are very different.

Sound it makes
English Japanese (romaji) Japanese (katakana)
Bird tweet/chirp pichu-pichu ピチュピチュ
Cat meow nyan ニャン
Chick Chirp/cheep piyo-piyo ピヨピヨ
Cow moo moo-moo モーモー
Crow kaa-kaa カーカー
Dog arf/bow-wow/woof wan-wan ワンワン
Duck quack gaa-gaa がーがー
Frog ribbet gero-gero ゲロゲロ
Horse neigh hihiin ヒヒイン
Bee Buzz tsuu ツウ
Monkey kee-kee/aah-aah/ooh-ooh kyaa-kyaa/kii-kii キャキャ・キキー
Pig oink buu-buu ブーブー
Rooster cock-a-doodle-do kokekokko コケコッコー
Sheep baa-baa mee-mee メエメエ
Scream Kyaa キャー

We’ll continue the other two types of Japanese onomatopoeia in the next post.

Are the sounds different in your language? What are your thoughts about it? Share it with us in the comments!

References:

1. Japanese Onomatopoeia Guide. Tofugu.

2. Manga Tutorials – Japanese Sound Effects List. Manga Tutorials.

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