"What does a Cow Say in Your Language?"
I had a friend in high school who had immigrated and, as happens with foreign students, spent a lot of time in an international crowd. Although she liked this crowd, she did grow weary of conversations that went along the lines of: “.... and what does a cow say in your language?” Before venturing out into other conversational worlds, she did make the comment that, contrary to what anglophones might think, roosters did not say “cock-a-doodle-doo” (I actually wasn’t sure of how to spell that, but the Oxford English Dictionary places hyphens between the words, so that is what we have here). In fact, our interpretations of animal sounds are a form of onomatopoeia, words that imitate sounds. Needless to say, these will be different in different languages.
In case you were wondering what animals say in French, I will include a list of animals you may hear about, what they say, and the verb used to denote the sounds they make.
animaux de compagnie :
|dog||le chien||ouah, ouaf, wouf||aboyer, japper|
|bird||l’oiseau||cui-cui||chanter, pépier, siffler|
|parrot||le perroquet||coco||aser, craquer|
animaux de ferme :
|billy glat||le bouc||bé, bê, bè||bêler, bégueter|
|goat||la chèvre||bê, mê||bêler, bégueter|
|pig||le cochon||groin||grogner, grouiner|
|rooster||le coq||cocorico||coqueliner, coqueriquer|
|cuckoo||le coucou||coucou||coucouer, coucouler|
|turkey||la dinde, le dindon||glouglou||glouglouter, glougloter|
animaux sauvages :
|crow||le corbeau||croâ||corailler, coasser|
|frog||la grenouille||coââ coââ||coasser|
|owl||le hibou||hou-hou||huer, ululer, boulouler|
|wolf||le loup||ouuuh, aouuuh||hurler|
|green woodpecker||le pic-vert||pic pic pic||picasser|
|bee||l’abeille||bzzz, buzzz||bourdonner, vrombir|
|cicada||le cigale||crii crii crii||craquetter|
|cricket||le grillon||crii crii crii||grésiller, striduler|
|fly||la mouche||zzzzzzzzzz||aser, craquer|
Animals have inspired many songs, and the sounds they make feature in comptines that children learn. Here are a few featuring a cat, a duck, an owl, and a bee. Some use onomatopoeia to reflect the sounds that the animals make and some refer to the behavior of the animals.
1) Le Chat orange
J’ai un petit chat
Petit comme ça,
Je l’appelle Orange...
Jamais il ne mange,
Ni souris, ni rat...
C’est un chat étrange,
Qui n’aime que le nougat,
Et le chocolat...“
– Mais c'est pour cela
Qu’il ne grandit pas !”
Dit tante Solange…
2) Le canard
Un petit canard au bord de l’eau
Il est si beau, il est si beau!
Un petit canard au bord de l’eau,
Il est si beau qu’il est tombé à l’eau!
3) Le hibou
Le hibou hou hou
Aux yeux doux hou hou
Vient de sortir de son trou
Tout le jour il a dormi
Maintenant que vient la nuit
Que là-haut la lune luit
Il surveille la forêt
4) Les Abeilles
Les abeilles - zoum, zoum, zoum ! (rapide)
Font du miel - zoum, zoum, zoum ! (lent)
Dans leur ruche - zoum, zoum, zoum ! (rapide)
Elles chantent - zoum, zoum, zoum ! (lent)
Animals and their sounds have also appeared in musical works, such as those by the composers François Poulenc and Maurice Ravel. Poulenc’s Bestiaire features animals such as l’écrevisse and la colombe, while Ravel’s Histoires naturelles features le paon and le grillon, among others. Ravel’s cricket is given human characteristics: “Puis il remonte sa minuscule montre / A-t-il fini ? Est-elle cassée ? / Il se repose encore un peu”. Poulenc’s crayfish is also described as possessing “incertitude”. These creatures are unlikely subjects for musical compositions, as they are not traditionally seen as noble or as representing the grander human characteristics, such as love, courage, and strength, but the short songs in which they appear are animated and give vivid impressions of their imagined personalities.
Animals also appear in literary works, such as Michel de Montaigne’s essay “De l’exercitation”, written somewhere between the end of 1571 and the middle of 1574 (according to Pierre Villey’s edition of the Essais), in which he describes falling off of a horse. Other animals appear in the prologue to François Rabelais’s work Gargantua (first published in 1534 or 1535, depending on whom you ask), in which he describes a dog sucking bone marrow, and Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 poem, “Le Chat”, which describes the quality of a cat’s movements and voice.
Animals also feature in film, notably in Luc Jacquet’s 2005 film La marche de l’empereur, which followed emperor penguin colonies through the Antarctic winter and the mating season.
This film, released in as many as ten other languages besides French, won a 2006 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The different versions use different narrators, different styles of narration, and different sound tracks. I’m not sure what penguins say in French or in English, but they are able to raise their voices above the Antarctic winds, or katabatics, catabatiques (en français). Perhaps if humans have enough contact with them, they will make up a verb for the sound a penguin makes when calling over these 327 km / hr winds.
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