“Old MacDonald had a farm” is known and sung all around the world. This song is particularly famous for his animal sounds. It’s quite amusing to see how each language interprets these sounds: most of the time it seems that the animals themselves “speak” different languages too.
In Japan, onomatopoeia (giseigo 擬声語 ) are very often used. There are two different types: “real” onomatopoeia (giongo 擬音語) and mimesis (gitaigo 擬態語). Giongo is a transcription of the sound you actually hear, while gitaigo is a sound to express your actions of feelings. Because we don’t really have gitaigo in our language, it’s rather difficult to understand or to translate. An example of gitaigo is “gatagata” ガタガタ. It means that something is unstable. That can be literally (you’re trembling) or mental (the situation is unstable). Both types are often written in katakana カタカナ (one of the writing systems). Onomatopoeia may sound a bit childish to us (“the dog says woof!”) but are regarded as accomplished in Japan, because it’s difficult to master these sounds at a young age. Also, it enables you to put more feeling in your speech.
Let’s take a look at Old MacDonald’s animals. I thought it would be nice to compare three languages: Japanese, English and Dutch, my native language. The transcription of the katakana is written between brackets. The letters with a hyphen on top should be pronounced as long vowels.
|dog||ワンワン(wanwan)||woof or bow-wow||woef|
|chicken||コケコッコ(kokekokku)||cluck or cackle||tok|
|donkey||makes no sound in Japan…||hee-haw||ia ia|
|sheep||メーメー(mēmē)||bleat||bèh or mèh|
There are still some animals left on Noah’s ark:
|bird||ピチュピチュ(pichupichu)||tweet||piep or *whistle sound*|
Now try to guess the animals in the Japanese version of Old Mac Donald: yukaina makiba ゆかいな牧場, meaning “happy farm”. If you’re singing along, watch out for the modulation between the strophes.
Facts for fun
– In yukaina makiba, there are two farmers: Ichiro and Jiro.
– There is no Dutch version of this song. In primary school, we used to sing this in English.
– The sound of rain has many onomatopoeia in Japanese. Which one to use depends on the heaviness. For example: zāzā ザーザー for heavy rain, potsupotsu ポツポツ for rain drops.
– You can test your Japanese animal sound knowledge on nciku.
– again blog tofogu
– blog kapanikki, for the image.