Around the world, new parents are busy perfecting their animal noises. These animals will become some of the main characters in their child’s formative years, serving as a shared language for barnyard songs and interactive story time.
The cuteness factor also contributes to the appeal of little kids imitating farm animals. Cuing up a demonstration of your little tyke’s comprehension skills is endearing. In the baby-talk vernacular, we perceive these animal noises as universal sounds and treat them pretty matter-of-factly.
But the bark of a French dog and the exhausted snort of a Russian horse are nuanced. In reality, adults interpret animal noises according to the sounds and intonations of their native language – some more convincing than others. Take a look at this Sesame Street clip that teaches what dogs say in Korea, South Africa and Romania:
Professor Derek Abbott, of the University of Adelaide, has amassed a collection of common animal sounds in 17 different languages. His animal sounds project also charts animal commands and popular animal names. For instance, the English command for calling a cat is “Here kitty kitty,” while Russian speakers will coax with a staccato, “Ks-ks-ks.”
When you start to explore the logic behind each language’s impersonation of animal sounds, a well articulate “oink-oink” or “neigh” may sounds more manufactured than we originally thought. As you watch the following clip, conduct your own survey of the most convincing animal sounds:
In pursuit of my own amusement, I decided to interview friends and family who are bilingual in animal-talk. They graciously obliged my request to bleat, cluck, and moo over the phone, often pausing part way through to laugh at themselves. We stuck to a basic list of domestic animals.
Kyrgyz; Dilbar (my host-sister in Kyrgyzstan)
Russian; Oskana (my Ukrainian-American aunt)
Do you speak another language that interprets animal noises differently? Are different animals noises more prominent than barn yard calls? Please share in the comments section below.