French Onomatopoeia Posted by Bridgette on Jun 19, 2020 in Language
Today I want to explore the linguistic phenomenon of onomatopoeia, which is the formation of a word from a sound associated with that word. It originates from the word ὀνοματοποιία in the Greek language which means ‘making or creating names’, and in English we use it to describe the unique words made to imitate sounds. In French, the word is onomatopée.
You may have already realized that onomatopée differ in each language, thanks to different pronunciation and spelling. In France cows do not moo and cats do not hiss. The French do not say yum when presented with a mouth-watering bowl of bœuf bourgignon, and they certainly do not glug-glug when drinking a vintage Bordeaux wine. Let’s see what the French say instead…
Sounds of humans:
boire, glou glou = to drink, glug glug
manger, miam = to eat, yum
éternuer, atchoum = to sneeze, achoo
se blesser, aïe = to hurt oneself, ow
beurk! = yuck!
heu, euh = um, hm
faire chut à, chut = to shush, shh
crier, pleurer, ouin-ouin = to cry, wah-wah
dormir, rrr, ron-pshi = to sleep, zzzz
Sounds of animals:
miauler, miaou = to meow, meow
aboyer, ouaf ouaf = to bark, ruff ruff
siffler, siff = to hiss, hiss
meugler, meuh = to moo, moo
grogner, grouin grouin = to grunt, oink oink
hurler, aoouu = to howl, awooo
hululer, ouh ouh = to hoot, hoo hoo
Sounds of objects:
tic-tac – tick-tock
dring-dring – ring-ring
dingue-dongue – ding-dong
plouf – splash
patatra – kaboom
pan-pan – bang-bang
My favorite French onomatopée that doesn’t seem to have a good English translation is “hop-là!” Usually used when picking up something off the ground – kids, groceries, etc. The best thing to do when learning these types of phrases is to just listen carefully to those around you and when they use it contextually and mimic it!
This is just a short list of many instances of onomatopée that you may see in French text to describe certain sounds made by objects, humans, and animals. Images courtesy of the bande dessinée, or comic book, Astérix. Comic books are a great way to learn the language, as well as see lots of fun examples of onomatopoeia!
Have you heard or know any others? Comment them below!