Translations of onomatopoeias

Do you need translation services?
Contact us now to get a quote

The linguistic imitation of non-discursive sounds that suggest or describe a particular fact or action (click, gloop gloop, woof woof, etc.) is called onomatopoeia. And it is a resource we use almost daily in our oral and written communication, as professionals dedicated to translation services are well aware.

This is usually found in literature,  primarily in comics (certainly you can imagine that bomb exploding in the vignette, accompanied by the onomatopoeia “boom”). Of course, this resource does not only exist in our country. And since two regions can speak two languages that are far removed from each other phonetically, the onomatopoeias will be radically different. The question we ought to ask at this point is: can onomatopoeias be translated? We can give you tons of examples that you’ll probably find very interesting.


Translation agencies and onomatopoeias in terms of languages

At our translation agency we are very used to translating onomatopoeias. So we can tell you that a huge number of them is found within the animal kingdom:

Dogs barking. In Spanish we tend to imitate barking with the typical “guau guau”. However, you don’t need to go very far to observe significant variations. In Catalan, barking is interpreted as “bup bup“, and in Euskera, it’s “zaunk”. If we leave our borders, we can find “woof” (English), “wan wan” (Japanese) or “mung mung” (Korean).

– Birds singing. Our “pio-pio” can be translated to “tweet-tweet” in English, hence the name “Twitter”, one of the most important social networks at the moment. As for the “kikirikí” sound made by roosters, we can find a wide range of sounds from around the world: “cockadoodledoo“, in the United Kingdom; “ko ko koi ko ko koi“, in Taiwan or “bak bakbvagiir“, in the Arab world.

– Cat sounds In our country, cats make a sound like “miau miau”. However, the onomatopoeia for the Japanese is “nyan nyan” and “meow” for the English and Syrians.

But if we move away from the animal kingdom, we also find a great many onomatopoeias that can be translated:

Snoring Onomatopoeias that simulate snoring vary a lot from one place to another: in France, snoring appears as “ron pchi”; in Japanese it’s “gu gu”; in Bulgarian “hurrrr” and in English “zzzzz”.

Sneezing. The linguistic variations on our “achís” are very broad: while in Russia they use “apchkhi”, in Japan they use “hakushon” and in Anglo-Saxon countries, “achoo”.

Car horns. Our “piiiii” can be translated as “honk” (English), “toot toot” (Finnish) or “bi-biip” (Bulgarian).

Crying. In Spanish, “bua” has similar translations in English (“wah”) and in Finnish (““byääh”). However, the representation of crying in France (“ouin”) and in Japan (“shikushiku”) is far less intuitive from our perspective.

Kissing. Representations of the sound of  kissing vary enormously in different languages: “mwah”, in English; “boh”, in Chinese; “smack”, in French; “mopsti”, in Estonian; “chuac”, in Portuguese…


As you can see, translating onomatopoeias is no mystery to professional translators. If you need translation services, don’t hesitate to contact us.


This post is also available in: Español (Spanish) Français (French) Nederlands (Dutch)