Filched off the blogpound, something light for a change:
Cutting through the animal b-a-a-belANIMAL ACCENTS
Evidence is emerging that many creatures have regional accents, or dialects. Scientists last year reported bearded seal vocalizations so different that males from Alaska may have trouble understanding males of the same species from Canada. Animals that show evidence of dialects include killer whales, monkeys, dogs, otters, frogs, birds, crickets, bats, cows and dogs.Summ, zoum, vizz, boon – it’s really the same old buzz no matter whom you’re talking toJanuary 20, 2008
A meow is a miaou is a miyau. Unless it’s a mia’oon.
Or a nyan.
And chickens cluck, if they’re not tokking, or doing the caca-racá.
As for Lassie, a woof by any other name might well be a vuff, a voff or even a vau.
It all depends on where you are and whom you’re talking to. A Greek bee zoums. A German bee summs. A Turkish bee vizzes. A Japanese bee goes . . . boon.
Before you roll your eyes at that one, try rolling it around first in your mouth: boooon, booooonnnnnn, bnnnnnnnnnnnn. Feeling the buzz?
Animals sound pretty much the same the world over but people, with our hundreds of languages, don’t.
The differences are cultural, to be sure. Different groups have different ways of describing similar things.
“Part of it depends on the speech sounds used in a given language,” explains Alexei Kochetov, assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto.
“It also depends on how particular organs – the lips, the tongue, the cheeks – are used in the language.”
But there are less complex considerations, like simple twists of fate.
“It’s also random choice,” says Kochetov, “depending on how the sound was first heard and how it developed over thousands of years.”
A woman in a tribe in the heart of Africa 10,000 years ago hears a bird in the bush and tries to mimic the sound. She teaches it to her son, and as it gets passed on through the generations it becomes embedded in the language.
The result, to English-hearing ears, can be a bit strange.
And that’s where professor Derek Abbott comes in. Abbott’s director of the Centre for Biomedical Engineering at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He’s got a string of degrees, none of which has anything to do with phonetics or languages. But he’s put together an illuminating website that lists hundreds of sounds he’s collected from delegates to scientific conferences around the world. Many of the results are on this page.
Why? Pure curiosity, which he gets to satisfy in his travels. “I bore everyone I meet and say, ‘How do you say this in your language?’ ” he laughs during a telephone interview from Adelaide.
He finds it fascinating that some animals have plenty of variation – pigs for example – and some very little. Ducks are pretty similar. And roosters, he says, all sound “fairly cock-a-doodle-doo-ey.”
He’s also intrigued that some sounds don’t seem to exist in other languages, which is why you’ll still see plenty of blanks on his website.
“Sometimes what’s obvious in English just doesn’t seem to have an equivalent in another language,” Abbott told BBC radio last year.
“I get blank looks on people’s faces. A good example would be when we have bird sounds, we say cheep cheep or chirp for a little tiny bird. For a slightly bigger bird we might say tweet and for a big bird we’d say squawk. But then when I go around the world and talk to people in different languages and ask them `what do you say for squawk, folks,’ they have no problem for chirp chirp and cheep cheep – they have their equivalents – but when it comes to squawk, I get this blank look and sudden silence.”
His favourite animal sound? The Hungarian pigeon.
“In English we would say coo, and in other languages – Finnish for example they say kurr – but for the Hungarian one, it’s very beautiful. It’s burukk burukk.”
Abbott’s been collecting sounds seriously for about a decade, and cautions that what he’s doing isn’t an exact science. The Star quickly found that out when we asked some of our multilingual staff – Hindi, Chinese and Urdu – to help with the chart on this page. It’s all a matter of interpretation.
Abbott welcomes any additions or comment. In the meantime, he’s expanded to animal commands – such as sit, or giddyup – and pet names in other tongues. And most recently he added a brand new challenge: cartoon-like human sounds.
For instance, splat! – the sound of a tomato hitting a wall. How in the world do you say that in Swahili.
Check out Derek Abbott’s website at www.eleceng.adelaide.edu.au/Personal/dabbott/animal.html. If you can help him with words, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.