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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: English Animal Sounds Barking Up Wrong Tree




Summertime at the dacha comes complete with its choruses of animals. Our arrival, for example, is always heralded by Mars, a vociferous German shepherd, who can bark for hours on end, setting off an echo of bow wows from nearby canines.


But while our English speaking ears hear Mars barking one way, our Russian neighbors hear something else entirely. To us he may bow wow, arf arf or ruf ruf, but to them he speaks the language of all Russian dogs: gav gav.


Being raised in the United States, I cannot image a dog pronouncing a hard g, but I have hotly debated this topic with many Russians who insist that a dog's bark is a lot closer to a gav gav than it is to a bow wow.


Intrigued by this difference I decided to investigate this bow wow controversy further, applying it to other animals. How could something as basic as a sound we mimic vary so greatly from one language to the next?


Running down a list of barks, honks and growls, I was relieved to learn that our cows and cats do speak the same language f each mooing and meowing, respectively. But after digging deeply into the language of the barnyard and beyond, I was shocked to discover some major discrepancies.


Take for example the Russian lyagushka, or frog. He does not say ribbitt ribbitt as his English speaking counterpart does, but kvaa kvaa. And then there is the Russian pig, who does not roll around in the mud oinking. Instead, the Russian svinya says khryu khryu.


And our horses speak an entire different language altogether. Horses in Russia do not whinny, as English speakers might expect. Oh no, horses say: i go go.


One might think that our feathered friends might be able to find a common language, but here too we differ. A Russian kuritsa, or chicken, does not strut around the barnyard saying bok bok bok, but ko ko ko. And the kuritsa's husband, the mighty rooster or petukh, does not wake up the countryside with a daily cock-a-doodle-doo. Come dawn, the Russian rooster rouses with a resounding kukareku. For the record, geese do not fly overhead with a nasal honk, but they ga ga ga.


Russian ducks do not quack at all. They krya krya. I have to admit that the Russians might have the English speakers on this one. Krya krya-ing does seem to come a lot closer to the sound a duck makes. I have never heard any duck enunciate a full quack.


Russians even have sounds for animals for which English speakers have none. That silent as a mouse expression does not appear to apply to Russian rodents. The Russian myshka, or mouse, peek peeks. It can also pee pee.