It's reasonable to assume that American dogs can communicate perfectly well with Japanese dogs, but try using "bark bark" to describe the sound that dogs make to a Japanese person, who would say "wan wan," and you might have trouble. That's because different languages represent the sounds of animals in different ways, even though in most cases they qualify as onomatopoeia.

This video, by Vimeo user properniceinnit, features speakers of English, Mandarin, French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Hindi, Canadian-French, Romanian, Japanese, Russian, Dutch, Bengali, Brazilian-Portuguese, Colombian-Spanish, Swahili and Mongolian.


What's interesting is which animal sounds have more linguistic variation than others. For example, it seems as if there are more variations for the sound that dogs make than for cats.

Meanwhile, "moo" is pretty universally understood to represent the sound that cows make - even accounting for slight differences in the way the vowels are pronounced ("moo" vs "meuh" vs "muu") - but when the consonant sound differs, at first it's pretty surprising ("boe").


But if you stop and consider the articulatory phonetics - the way that your mouth and vocal tract actually produce the sounds - it actually makes quite a bit of sense. Both the M and B sounds, after all, are bilabial, sounds produced by bringing the lips together.

There you go: an afternoon lesson in linguistics, brought to you by animal noises.


[The Dodo]