Such a funny word, onomatopoeia – all those vowels huddled together make it rather tricky to pronounce it (I don’t know about you, but I always end pronouncing it as if I was giving dictation to a six-year old). Going back to the subject, no surprise, today there’s going to be talk about words or (string) of syllables that imitate sounds: “bang!”. Specifically, we’ll be talking about Chinese onomatopoeia (拟声词 NǐShēngCí – lit. “imitate” + “sound” “word”), dealing with animal sounds. These words are more commonly used by Chinese speakers than by English speakers.
So whenever you’re encountering a duck (unless, the meeting happens to take place on your restaurant table), you should greet them with the appropriate 呱呱 (GuāGuā). And no, quacking instead will get you nowhere. The cats meow or 喵 (Miāo), but if you want to call a cat – and be eventually disappointed when they don’t show up (in every language) – you can try by uttering a gentle 咪咪 (MīMī) – “here, kitty-kitty”. Repeat until necessary.
I don’t know where the inspiration comes for this one, but for some reason in Chinese the sheep sound completely different, that is: 咩咩 MiēMiē (I know, quite a step away from the usual “ba”). The dogs too have a more soft sounding 汪汪 (WāngWāng), which should not be confused with 嗡嗡 (WēngWēng) – a buzzing sound (mosquitoes, bees, you name it).
The roosters in China are, it seems, of more polite, gentle nature, more of a “hey… sorry… are you awake?”, with a light 喔喔 (WōWō) whispered towards your direction, instead of the usual cock-a-doodle-doo! trumpeted into your ear. More eloquent, on the other hand, is the family of chirpers which go (on and on) with their 叽叽喳喳s (JīJīZhāZhā-s).
And lastly, let’s turn toward mice, these silent creatures will continue to go unnoticed in China too, betrayed only by their quiet, (and perhaps, to be completely on the safe side, mimicking the sound of the electric current), 吱吱 ZīZī (also used for describing creaking sounds, but, beware, then it’s pronounced 吱吱 ZhīZhī).