Onomatopoeia: Write It as You Hear It

The word “onomatopoeia” in English might sound a bit peculiar, even for English-speaking people. The etymology of this linguistic device traces back to ancient Greek words “onoma” meaning “name” and “poein” meaning “to make, to produce”.

Onomatopoeia means the production of a word in imitation of a sound. Nowadays, the use of onomatopoeia is really common in texting or chatting. For example, instead of saying “I’m laughing” in the text, we probably write “hahaha” or “hihihi”.

Uniquely, even though a sound may be heard similarly by one person with the others, onomatopoeias are mostly different in every language. As an example, the sound of a rooster in Indonesian language is written “kukuruyuk”, but in English, it is written “cock-a-doodle-doo”.

Since the interpretation of a sound might be different from one another, every country decides the universal word that can be used by their society. Therefore, when we are going to translate an onomatopoeia, it is recommended to use the universal word of the target language in order to make the translation acceptable.

Hereinafter, we list some mostly used onomatopoeias in English and the translation in Indonesian, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, and French.

EnglishSound ImitationIndonesianJapaneseSpanishKoreanFrench
cock-a-doodle-dooRoosterkukuruyukkokekokkoquiquiriquiggo ggee ohcocorico
mooCowmooomoo moomueum maemeu/meuh
woof woofDogguk gukwan wanguau guaumung mongouaf ouaf
knock knockDoor knockedtok tokkonkontoc tocttokttoktoc toc
bangGun fireddordonbang bangbbangpan-pan
splashWater splashedbyurbashaachofcholssokplouf

Based on the above examples, it is clear that onomatopoeias depend on how each country perceives the sound, and then the onomatopoeia word is written following the language rules of each country. Hence, it is wise for us to do some research when translating onomatopoeia texts.

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