Prok Prok Prok!

That’s the sound of applause in Indonesian, according to illustrator James Chapman in BuzzFeed, “explaining what the world sounds like in different languages.” The illustrations are a delight and I haven’t noticed any obvious errors in the multilingual onomatopoeia; there’s not much else to say except go, look, enjoy! (Also, it’s interesting, now that he points it out, that English has no standard rendition of the sound of toothbrushing.) A tip o’ the hat to John Emerson for the link.

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    And “shua” is both the onomotapoeia for brushing teeth and the nmame of the toothbrush (yashua). Ao “brush brush brush” might be the English onomotopoeia.

  2. In my grandmother’s Swiss German, puck was the sound for farting, along with the verb pucken. I think of it whenever I hear of Austrian-born celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. Paging David M.—is puck used in Austrian German as well?

  3. Stephen Bruce says:

    In my mind, the tooth brushing sound is firmly “ch ch ch,” because of Raffi’s song “Brush Your Teeth.”

  4. Stephen Bruce says:

    …but that might be the Canadian sound, or the Armenian-Egyptian-Canadian one.

  5. Indonesian prok prok prok can also mean clomp clomp clomp, as in marching boots. That may have (speculation only) been the original meaning, then transferred to the sound of rhythmic clapping, then to applause when that peculiar custom was introduced by Europeans.

    Turkish pirt for fart is intriguing – presumably onomatopoeic, or is it a borrowing from Indo-European? If the latter, that seems awfully genteel of the Turks.

  6. Someone told me once that ‘warg’ was ‘belch’ in Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese or Balinese, i don’t remember which. Belching the word ‘warg’ was guaranteed to have everyone rolling in the proverbial aisles.

  7. It’s curious that the German for “ouch” is given as autsch. In over forty years in Germany, primarily the Rheinland, I have heard that used in speech only extremely rarely. Instead, people say aua. In comics you find either aua or autsch / ouch, which perhaps reflects regional differences. Autsch even has an entry in Grimm, as well as in Duden. Aua is not in Grimm.

  8. It made me smile to see that ALL of the words for farting started with “p”, “b”, or “f”. Now that’s what I call a linguistic universal.

    The Japanese word for clock ticking, “chiku taku”, is actually a loan from English. (Of “tick tack”, the lexicographers say, rather than “tick tock” in a US accent.)

  9. matematichica says:

    I was surprised about some of those. For example, I wouldn’t say that sirens in English go “Nee Naw.” They go “whee auoo whee auoo” or maybe there’s just not a standardized word for their sound in my idiolect. I also wouldn’t say “zzzzzz” is the sound of snoring; that’d be “honk shuuuu, honk shuuuu” or something like that. “Zzz” is just a symbolic indication of sleeping, but doesn’t convey any noise to me.

    Finally, are all the synonyms in the “Eating” one really like “Chomp chomp?” I wonder if some of them are more like “nom nom” than “chomp chomp,” which I think of as the sound of biting, rather than eating tasty things.

    But regardless, this was lots of fun.

  10. Just like in the situation with descriptive words for smells, the descriptive words for sounds might frequently differ from person to person and from context to context, especially if the subjects is somewhat taboo (like farts or yawns), or if the sounds themselves evolve fast (as it might be the case with sounds of cars or clocks). Also I suspect that many languages use verbs ~~ “to make a certain kind of a sound” or adjectives ~~ “sounding like something” or nouns designating a sound-maker, rather than onomatopoeic or pseudo-onomatopoeic nouns for the sounds themselves (what, indeed, is the true sound of thought? Hmm? 🙂 ). So by picking one of many alternative words, and by taking just sound-nouns into account, this funny series of illustrations would greatly exaggerate differences between languages.

    Case in point, it’s true than in Russian the sound of fart may be called “pook” (immortalized by Disney’s name for princess Anastasia’s dog, so impossibly irreverent in Russian). But “to fart” would be пердеть, and “fart” as a person who makes this sound would correspond to пердун, where the root “perd” doesn’t sound any different from the English “fart”. “Pook” OTOH is largely restricted to kiddie-talk.

    Or the supposed Russian “ba bakh” for the sound of a gunshot might also be a kiddie-talk and one of many alternative words.

  11. But it’s specifically about onomatopoeic words rather than verbs or whatever.

  12. Fart is reconstructible to PIE *perd-. As for the sound of toothbrushing, consider the Ipana toothpaste jingle: “Brusha brusha brusha, new Ipana toothpaste”.

  13. “words rather than vervs”, huh, it isn’t like these verbs aren’t words – or aren’t onomatopoeic. In English it’s too simple with “fart” being a sound-label, a person-label, and a verb, so the English speakers tend to perceive sound-label noun as primary. But is it? In some languages, nouns just can’t be used at all for most of these roles, and the primary meaning may be a verb. E.g. in Russan, the words for “ouch” or “hmm” aren’t grammatically nouns, they don’t have respective declensions etc. They are classified as междометие (Engl. “interjection”). OTOH for the acts of flatus, there is a noun equivalent in Russian, пердёж, but it is derived from the verb.

    Thanks for the closing tag fix btw 🙂

  14. Stefan Holm says:

    Fart is reconstructible to PIE *perd-.

    Unwilling to talk in matters like these I still feel the responsibility to provide the international community with the inmentionable Swedish terms. The verbs are fjärta and prutta and the nouns the same just removing the final -a. (At least this is what I have heard from older naugthy boys). One could add fisa (noun without the -a) referring to a silent variety of the same origin of odour.

  15. J. W. Brewer says:

    Sirens do not plausibly go “nee naw nee naw” in AmEng but might plausibly do so in BrEng, because the underlying sound is different. And indeed Chapman appears to be a Brit, or at least currently in grad school at the U. of Manchester. (I think I may have first learned what British police sirens sounded like at the very tail-end of the ’70’s from the intro to the Clash’s “White Riot,” just as the need to make sense of a line from “London’s Burning” was what led me to figure out that BrEng “999” = AmEng “911.”)

  16. “words rather than vervs”, huh, it isn’t like these verbs aren’t words – or aren’t onomatopoeic. In English it’s too simple with “fart” being a sound-label, a person-label, and a verb, so the English speakers tend to perceive sound-label noun as primary. But is it? In some languages, nouns just can’t be used at all for most of these roles, and the primary meaning may be a verb. E.g. in Russan, the words for “ouch” or “hmm” aren’t grammatically nouns, they don’t have respective declensions etc. They are classified as междометие (Engl. “interjection”). OTOH for the acts of flatus, there is a noun equivalent in Russian, пердёж, but it is derived from the verb.

    I feel like we’re talking past each other; at any rate, I can’t figure out what you’re trying to say, or what you object to in what I said. You understand the difference between onomatopoeic words (like “arf” or гав-гав) and other lexical items (like “bark” or лаять), right? Well, this post is about the former. Whether some languages use nouns or verbs is irrelevant, and if some languages don’t have onomatopoeic words for some events, well, they don’t, and so what?

  17. One could add fisa

    English fist (rhymes with iced) is now obsolete, but it too is reconstructible, this time to PIE *pezd- > Latin pētō, Greek βδέω, Russian бздеть.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Paging David M.—is puck used in Austrian German as well?

    Nope.

    It’s curious that the German for “ouch” is given as autsch. In over forty years in Germany, primarily the Rheinland, I have heard that used in speech only extremely rarely. Instead, people say aua.

    I grew up with nobody saying aua – just au. Or sometimes the extended auadsch when it didn’t actually hurt.

    What’s interesting is the sound effect used to represent this where I come from: it’s composed entirely of sounds that don’t occur in the language. It’s a heavily implosive, probably prenasalized [ɗ] followed by a completely unrounded [ʃ] (as found in Navajo).

  19. Russian бздеть

    right

    Whether some languages use nouns or verbs is irrelevant, and if some languages don’t have onomatopoeic words for some events, well, they don’t, and so what?

    Umm, let me try again. The pictorial guide selected from multiple onomatopoeic words available in one language rather capriciously, but systematically neglected any words which had suffixes or prefixes in addition to the “onomatopoeic root”. Only the words which consisted solely of the onomatopoeic part got picked. Of course it’s fairly irrelevant if an onomatopoeic word is a noun or a verb, but it just so happens that a suffix may be morphologically required (e.g. for verbs in great many languages) and such words were automatically disqualified.

    In the end we may have gotten away with a false impression that some languages don’t have any onomatopoeic word for a certain sound at all (while in reality they do, but these words come with a suffix or smth.) or that the languages use very different ways to imitate the same sound (while in reality they may use multiple ways, some of which are close or even cognate)

  20. Ah, gotcha. Well, all I can say is that it’s an illustrated humor piece rather than a scientific paper, and for what it is I think it’s reasonably accurate. But yes, I wouldn’t want anyone trying to extrapolate valid linguistic ideas from it!

  21. John, It’s Lat. pēdō, actually. It’s usually taken for granted that PIE *perd- = ‘fart loudly’ while *pezd- = ‘fart softly’, which makes sense phonostylistically. However, when PIE has two nearly synonymous verb roots, there’s often a difference of aspect between them (“present” vs. “aorist”, that is imperfective/progressive vs. perfective/punctual). There’s some indication that *perd- was an original root aorist, so perhaps *pezd- was its present counterpart. Unfortunately, the evidence amounts to a fly’s fart, to put it figuratively. Anyway, Greek, Balto-Slavic and Germanic all testify that both roots are ancient and respectable.

  22. When I was a kid, we all said /aw/ (or prolonged /aːːw/) in Poland. Then /awʨ/ suddenly became popular in the early ’70s, or so it seems to me. I recall that it had the flavour of a new in-thing at the time. I suspect the virus spread from The Huckleberry Hound Show, which was broadcast on TV every Monday afternoon with Polish voice-over translation, but with the original track well audible — especially the frequent ouches.

  23. pēdō

    Woops. Yes, of course.

  24. Damn, you mean the joke “What do you call a female traffic cop?” (answer: Nina) doesn’t work in AmE? How disappointing.

  25. Probably not, for at least two reasons: accent differences, and different kinds of sirens used by the over 18,000 state and local police forces in the American Empire, ranging in size from single individuals to the 40,000 sworn officers of the New York City Police Department. We do have a number of federal police forces, but none of them has nationwide jurisdiction unless invited in: they operate freely only in places outside the jurisdiction of any U.S. state, such as territories, Indian reservations, post offices, military bases, etc.

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