March 01, 2002

Animal Instincts

Animal Instincts

Even professional interpreters know very few translations for onomatopeias. They may tell you that a rooster “goes “ку-ка-ре-ку” (cock-a-doodle-doo) and that the respective verb is кукарекать (“to crow”). And the better ones may know that, in some cases of bird-related content, they would not translate “Петя” as “Peter,” but as “rooster.” Our inventive language has turned “петух” into “Петя” (or even the more tender “Петя-петушок”), since the noun and first name are so similar.

Perhaps some interpreters know that meowing in Russian is мяукать, so the sound reads as мяу-мяу. But that will be probably all that most would be able to come up with off the top of their head. OK, maybe some other verbs like мычать (to moo: му-у-у) or каркать (“to caw”) are also known, but not the actual exact sound produced by the crow—as adopted in literature/fiction books as such. For when you read “кар-кар” (“caw, caw”) in a Russian book, is it a sound made by a ворона (crow), and not a dog or cat?

So, why not learn some other basic animal sounds? What does a horse do, eh? The verb designating the sound a Russian horse makes is “ржать” (“to neigh”) and the sound is и-го-го. The horse’s toes  цокают (infinitive is цокать—“clatter”) and the sound is цок-цок.

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