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July 12, 2013

STAWAR: A sound interjection

(Continued)

In the past whenever our oldest son, who’s a computer engineer, would use my old computer, he would make the sound effect, “ka chung, ka chung, ka chung” to express his disdain for our outdated technology. Sounds such as this can serve as the auditory equivalent of making air quotes, when you want to cast aspersions on something.

Many sounds and noises are an important part of human communication and they are usually expressed through the use of interjections, onomatopoeias, and exclamations.

Interjections are word-like constructions or sounds that express an emotion or sentiment such as, “ahem,” “drat,” “shh,” “psst,” “tsk, tsk,” etc. When a very strong emotion is expressed such as “ouch” or “yikes” it’s called an exclamation. Speech fillers such as “uh,” “er,” “um” and “like” are also considered interjections. Interjections appear different from typical words, in that they may lack vowels or be made up of clicks or other inarticulate verbalizations. Some employ common English speech sounds, while others use foreign language speech conventions, like the “bilabial fricative” (a sound created by strong puff of air through the lips, as in the interjection, “Phew”). 

Interjections are also often onomatopoeic in that they phonetically suggest the very sound that they describe, such as the interjections “grr,” “brr,” “pow” and “zap.”

Sounds that animals make are among the most easily recognizable onomatopoeic words. Meow, bow wow, and moo are often among the first things that children learn to pronounce. These sounds, however, vary across the world. For example cats in China ironically say “mao;” in Denmark they say “Miaav;” and in Hungary, “Miaaau.” French children are taught, that pigs say “groin, groin” instead of “oink, oink.” 

Psychologist Stanley Coren from the University of British Columbia studied the words describing how dogs bark, across many different languages. While he denies that dogs speak different languages, he concludes that “there is no universally accepted sound that humans use to represent dog barks.” According to Coren, “The only thing that seems to come close to being unanimously agreed upon about dog barks is that dogs almost always speak twice —  thus a Hebrew dog says “hav-hav,” a Japanese dog says “wan-wan” and a Kurdish dog says “hau-hau.” This holds true even in American Sign Language. 

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