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Squidge. Splat. Slurp.

Today we’re talking about onomatopoeia – that’s the formation of words from sounds associated with what is being named, or in a simpler sense, words that sound like what they mean… at least in English, anyway.

Common in English superhero comic books or cooking programmes (Nigella Lawson, we’re looking at you!), onomatopoeia in language is not actually universal. A good example we can use to illustrate this is how children make animal noises in their mother tongues – whilst in English they will say pigs go oink oink, in France pigs sound more like groin groin. In Sweden, birds sing kvitt kvitt, rather than tweet tweet like their European cousins. In Japanese, some animals whose voices are ignored in other languages still have sounds given to them. Turtles go む mu for example. (We’re not sure why…)

While English is somewhat limited to onomatopoeic words like animals noises and cartoon sound effects, languages like Japanese and Chinese have sound expressions to describe a wide range of concepts. In Japanese, concepts that don’t even have sounds can still be expressed with onomatopoeia. This post will explain some of the most common types used in everyday conversations and how they differ to those found in English, but first take a look at this great example showing doorbell sounds from across the globe: