Animal Sounds in Japanese

The onomatopoeia of animal sounds varies among languages.

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Abe, Namiko. "Animal Sounds in Japanese." ThoughtCo, May. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/animal-sounds-in-japanese-4070963. Abe, Namiko. (2017, May 9). Animal Sounds in Japanese. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/animal-sounds-in-japanese-4070963 Abe, Namiko. "Animal Sounds in Japanese." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/animal-sounds-in-japanese-4070963 (accessed October 17, 2017).
Cats on Sanagi Island, Kagawa
Sanagi Island, Kagawa. Marser / Getty Images

Across different languages, there is surprisingly little consensus about what sounds animals make. Translating from animal noises into onomatopoeia varies widely across even closely-related languages. In English, a cow says "moo," but in French, it's closer to "meu" or "meuh." American dogs say "woof" but in Italy, man's best friend makes a sound more like "bau."

Why is this? Linguists don't really know the answer, but it seems whatever sounds we attribute to various animals is closely related to the conventions and speech patterns of our mother tongue.

The so-called "bow wow theory" posits that language began when humans' ancestors began imitating the natural sounds around them. The first speech was onomatopoeic and included words such as moo, meow, splash, cuckoo, and bang. Of course, in English especially, very few words are onomatopoeic. And around the world, a dog might say "au au" in Portuguese and "wang wang" in Chinese. 

Some researchers have suggested that the animals a culture is most closely aligned with will have more versions of what those animals say. In American English, a dog might "bow wow," "woof," or "ruff," and since dogs are beloved pets in the U.S. it makes sense we'd want to have a lot of words for how they express themselves to us and to other animals. 

It goes without saying that animals don't speak with accents, and these are only conventions that humans have assigned. Here are what various animals "say" in Japanese.

 

karasu
からす
crow

kaa kaa
カーカー

niwatori
roosterkokekokko
コケコッコー
(Cock-a-doodle-doo)
nezumi
ねずみ
mousechuu chuu
チューチュー
neko
catnyaa nyaa
ニャーニャー
(meow)
uma
horsehihiin
ヒヒーン
buta
pigbuu buu 
ブーブー
(oink)
hitsuji
sheepmee mee
メーメー
(baa baa)
ushi
cowmoo moo
モーモー
(moo)
inu
dogwan wan 
ワンワン
(woof, bark)
kaeru
カエル
frogkero kero
ケロケロ
(ribbit)

Interestingly, these animal sounds are usually written in the katakana script, rather than kanji or hiragana.

 

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Abe, Namiko. "Animal Sounds in Japanese." ThoughtCo, May. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/animal-sounds-in-japanese-4070963. Abe, Namiko. (2017, May 9). Animal Sounds in Japanese. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/animal-sounds-in-japanese-4070963 Abe, Namiko. "Animal Sounds in Japanese." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/animal-sounds-in-japanese-4070963 (accessed October 17, 2017).