Konnichiwa

Hi there, I’m Dave, and I’ll be doing a little bit of blogging here.

I suppose I should introduce myself a little – I’ve always been fascinated by languages and have studied them my entire life. I took Classics (Latin & Greek) at university, partly because they’d always been my strongest subjects, but mainly due to the fact that they form the basis of most European languages, which has stood me in good stead for picking up languages since. I also took some extra classes at university in Japanese, which is a language I had always wanted to learn – although it was made harder by the fact that in terms of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, it bears no resemblance to any other language I’d ever studied!

One of my first experiences with Japanese was reading about onomatopoeia. For those that aren’t aware, an onomatopoeia is a word that imitates the sound it describes, such as woof, pop, bang, etc.

It’s also a pretty fun word to say. Onomatopoeia. Try it.

I noticed early on how different and strange Japanese onomatopoeias were from their English counterparts, and thought that the Japanese people couldn’t possibly be hearing different sounds, could they? Later on I learned that the Japanese phoneme system is a little limited compared with that of English, and doesn’t really allow for some sounds to be made. However, I found during my studies that Japanese is positively littered with these little words, which are not only used to describe sounds but also, unlike English, sometimes even the emotions and things you don’t hear. Strictly, they should be called mimetic words, of which onomatopoeia are just a part.

Here are a few interesting mimetic words in Japanese (they usually come in twos), and if you hover over the blank bit underneath each one, you can see its corresponding English sound (or the feeling/condition it intimates). See if you can guess what they mean. Like a lot of Japanese things, some of them seem a little weird – try saying them out loud!

  • gero gero
    ribbit (frog croaking)
  • ton ton
    (footsteps)
  • kira kira
    (sparkling/shining)
  • wan wan
    woof (dog barking)
  • mogu mogu
    om nom nom (eating/chewing food)
  • chuu
    mwah/smooch (kissing)
  • kokekokko
    cock-a-doodle-doo (rooster crowing)
  • potsu potsu
    drip drop (water dropping)
  • paki paki
    crack (ice cracking)
  • yobo yobo
    wobbly-legged (from old age)

There’s a long list of them here, if you find yourself wanting to learn more.

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