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“Tring … Tring … Tring …
The phone kept on ringing but nobody answered..”
Do the above two lines give you an instant visual of a telephone ringing? It’s because of the resembling word ‘tring’ that has been repeatedly added here just as a telephone rings. This is basically an example of a linguistic device onomatopoeia. Similar to words like, ‘tring’, you might have knowingly or unknowingly pronounced words that directly resemble sounds, movement, action, etc.
It’s time you learn the theory behind them. Yes, there is a reason why you use sound words like ‘quack quack’ when talking about a duck; it’s your sensory feeling that grasps the idea of a duck and therefore you use them in your speech.
Now, to make this more interesting, let us tell you everything – from onomatopoeia definition to many more areas – that will make your writing and literacy skills better.
The first thing you must know in the context of this blog is how to define onomatopoeia.
Onomatopoeia is a term that sounds exactly like the item it is describing.
If you simplify the term onomatopoeia, it’s the combination of two Greek words – “name” and “I”. Thus, it simply means ‘the name (or sound) I make’. For instance, slurp! or boom! You see, these two words have no meaning other than how they sound.
This term is not only a mediator in language, but onomatopoeia has an effect broadly in the world of linguistics. You see, this device serves as the initial stage of linguistic expression and is a crucial indicator of the transformation of quasi-language into actual language. In fact, those who are linguists almost always begin a discussion of onomatopoeia with observations first, irrespective of any language.
For example, the snip of a pair of scissors is expressed as su-su in Chinese, cri-cri in Italian, riqui-riqui in Spanish, etc.
The term “onomatopoeia” was originally used by English author Henry Peacham in his grammar and rhetorical guidebook “The Garden of Eloquence” from 1577. But, onomatopoeia has roots in the Greek words onoma, which means “name,” and poiein, which means ‘to make’. Hence, it may have existed before language itself was created, despite the fact that the term wasn’t defined until the 1500s.
In literature, onomatopoeia in writing is used as a device both for poetry and prose. The reason of using it is that it can evoke specific sounds, such as a bee buzzing, express movement, such as fabric rustling, or enhance images, such as when roar is used in place of yell. Onomatopoeia adds life and interest to writing in each of these cases.
Poets often use onomatopoeia in addition to other figures of speech to provide a poem’s sound or produce a particular impact. The use of such tactics is relevant in children’s literature, comics, and novels since it can increase the excitement and realism.
Here is one of the most iconic example, to help you understand better – lines from the onomatopeia song – Old Macdonald’s Farm
With a moo-moo here
And a moo-moo there
Here a moo, there a moo
Everywhere a moo-moo
The onomatopoeia words are divided into two types primarily –
You can refer to this sort of onomatopoeia as conventional onomatopoeia. It’s because this particular type employs words whose sound provides hints to the sounds of actual objects. Here one of the classic onomatopoeia examples is the word “meow”. It sounds exactly like the sound a cat makes when it meows.
Here are some more common examples – ding-dong, woof, neigh, vroom, etc.
In a daily conversation, here’s how verbal onomatopoeia is used – “I just saw that bike going VROOOOM in no time!”
Visual onomatopoeia on the other hand communicates through a close equivalency between a subject and its depiction. By objectifying the group, which is typically only loosely conceptualised, it frames experience in a distinctive way.
Here are some common examples –
Boing – A sound related to something springy like a flying squirrel
Boom! – A massive explosion such as an atomic bomb just blown off
But, the use of visual onomatopoeia is not limited to pronouncing. It plays a significant role in comics, graphic novels, and visual storytelling
You have probably used a lot of expressive words such as rattle, tick-tack, etc., while speaking. It’s nothing new. In fact, authors have long back started this trend. To find out, why not explore the role of onomatopoeia in literature? Check below –
If you are a lover of poems, you will see how poets produce works that are incredibly vivid. Here, the use of metaphorical or literal imagery is one of the most popular devices. But to enhance it more, writers have employed onomatopoeia to a large extent. The purpose was to imitate actual sounds that can make the poetry livelier.
This enables readers to hear the sounds of nature or feel the breeze.
Here is are examples of what onomatopoeia in poetry looks like –
The poem “Pied Piper of Hamelin” is a well-known fairy tale to children, teenagers and even adults. But if you observe wisely below, it’s the use of certain words in the dramatic monologue of the poet Robert Browning that made the poem so popular.
In her poem “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -,” Emily Dickinson recalls the sounds she hears as she is dying. The word “buzz” is an onomatopoeic description of the sound. In addition, she mentions ‘stillness in the room’. If you observe in the below lines, the opening of the poem begins with onomatopoeia that creates an auditory landscape –
If you ask a bookworm, they will tell you, ‘There are certainly no fairy tale books with zero onomatopoeia words!’ Indeed true! In fact, authors have experimented with the writing style in prose to bring the most sensory experiences.
And if you ask how, the majority of the credit goes to the onomatopoeia used in a sentence.
Below is an example of that –
The writer conveys the sound of crunching and crackling leaves under the character’s feet by using words like crunched and crackled. The writer also offers the reader the chance to think back on what it was like to walk on dry leaves.
Apart from the feeling experienced, such words can also engage readers by setting a tone. Before you wonder how, below is are some lines from the “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey –
There are more than 7000 languages spoken worldwide; now imagine how many different onomatopoeia pronunciations are there in each of these languages! So, you can’t deny that it’s indeed a peculiar topic and every language has a debate on how to define it.
Generally speaking, sounds are the same no matter where you are in the world. A glass breaking on the floor creates the same sound whether it is in England or Korea. However, the noises that a speaker will use to describe might change greatly between nations. That’s why the onomatopoeia figure of speech is more visible in verbal than in text.
Here are a few instances of some pronunciation –
In English, “WOOF WOOF” is mainly used to describe the noise of a dog barking. Surprisingly, in Russian, the word “GAV GAV” is predominantly used. If they are small dogs, on the other hand, then Russians tend to use “TYAV TYAV.”
Whether in comics or in real life, ‘Wah-Wah’ is the most common word in English for babies crying. But do you know French has a different term for it – “OUIN OUIN”! Again, in Spanish, they say “BUA BUA”!
Apart from the diversity of onomatopoeia in global language, there is a distinction in the regional aspects as well. When you go through the analysis below, you will realise that there is more to explore than the usual use of onomatopoeia in a sentence.
Let’s take the example of Rural British. The accents in the countryside are notably jovial, affectionate, and creative expressions. Words like ‘hockerty-cockerty’ (Scottish) are terms known as linguistics circles that show reduplicative rhyming compounds to identify action and sound.
The following are some other examples to help you get a better idea –
A word like ‘fidge-fadge’ (Yorkshire) refers to a motion between walking and trotting, while boris-noris (Dorset) denote being carefree, irresponsible, or cherry.
But the fun part is how to pronounce onomatopoeia words of animal voice in different regions.
Do you know, in Africa, the sounds of frogs are conveyed as ‘kwaak-kwaak’ while ‘korekorekore’ in the Munduruku tribe of Brazil. In contrast, the Spanish dialect of Argentina simply goes ‘berp’!
In all of these examples, you will see that local experience shapes regional language all around the world. It can be considered that onomatopoeic words play an important role in preserving diversity of the regions.
This part is going to be fun as it’s time for the comic fans to gather! In the speech bubbles of , you will see certain words like ‘ahahaha’, ‘iyaa’, ‘iraira’ and many such words. Do you know they collectively have a term? It is manga onomatopoeia. The purpose of mentioning this is to say that onomatopoeic phrases have a huge role to play in pop culture as well.
Find out below!
The simple sound effect, often known as onomatopoeic phrases, is one of the distinctive aspects of comic books. In fact, comic books explicitly write out their onomatopoeic phrases, giving them a distinctive element of their narratives.
In the below picture what you see is a part of the Marvel Comics continuity created by Mark Gruenwald. When the character Scourge killed someone, his special gun would puff up a “Pum” sound before the bullet exited the body with a “Spak” sound. These words heightened the message meant to convey in the plot.
Even in the field of visual storytelling onomatopoeic words are represented in various media – in bold, ornamental fonts to visually portray the sounds they describe.
For example, in classic comic book combat scenes, the recognisable “POW!” and “BAM!” improves the visual experience and adds a dynamic element to the story.
The primary goal of using onomatopoeia as a mnemonic device in advertising is to help people remember the product it is promoting. This method is really easy to follow. First, the sounds of writing elicit linguistic, visual, and auditory images. Second, they cause intricate associational processes.
So, when a potential customer associates the literary image of a sound with the product, it is considered to be particularly effective in advertising. This involves the interaction of the graphical form (written sound), sound form (spoken sound), and actual sound.
For example, “Purrfect storm” is the campaign slogan for Jaguar vehicles. The use of phrase doubles the perfection of the vehicle by alluding to an engine that will only ‘purr’.
Similarly, Mazda’s commercial catchphrase is as succinct as “Zoom-Zoom”. It paints a clear picture of the noise made when the accelerator is pressed.
Words like ‘ahem’, ‘burp’, ‘achoo’, and ‘gargle’ are no new expressions. These are words that are used most of the times you speak, either by pronouncing or doing it.
Observe these sentences –
“Shushhhhh! Everybody maintain silence.”
“All the Popcorn fell and crunched under their feet in the dark theatre.”
“Haha! I caught you.”
The above examples are part of some conversations and the words in bold signifies certain sounds. Now, these words are how humans behave or express as per actions. These words as a result also count in the list of onomatopoeia words. Some of these words either hint at an action, while some play a role in humour (third example – ‘Haha’).
Apart from the fact that an onomatopoeia sentence makes every prose piece appealing, it focuses on making communications better. This is mainly significant in the words exchanged between a parent and infant.
A very common example can be teaching a child about cats. For this, a mother will prefer teaching her child to say ‘meow’ when showing a cat. It’s easy to grasp and they can easily connect with the voice of the animal.
Indeed, it’s applicable to say that onomatopoeia plays a major role in language learning by breaking complexity.
With the beauty of onomatopoeia, there are also challenges that make the purpose of this device partial. Have you ever tried to express the sounds of sea waves? If you have visited the beach recently, the sounds may keep echoing, but it might be difficult to put it into words.
Similarly, if you look at professionals, often comic writers struggle to express certain movements and sounds into visuals. In fact, the struggle occurs in the technical point that makes certain stories difficult to express.
Hence, writers have to rewrite the context a lot of time to break down the plot and make it easier to present.
Apart from challenges, onomatopoeia also has some limitations. Often writers end up overusing terms with too many interjections or one-word sentences. This disrupts the writing’s flow and pulls the reader out of the narrative. This is when cliché can emerge from repetition.
Another problem with onomatopoeia is word choice. The language you employ to describe sound should be appropriate for your book’s tone, target audience, and genre. For example, for younger readers without a sophisticated vocabulary, the diction needs to be more accessible and easier to read.
For starters, you can pick strong words to build the main context. You can then use onomatopoeic words in the form of verbs, nouns, and even adjectives. It is much more effective this way and it fits with the overall flow of your descriptions.
Here is a sentence that has onomatopoeic words placed in a flow rather than overusing –
“In December, you will find every shop filled with chatter and jingles and friendly greetings of “Happy Holidays.”
Onomatopoeia’s purpose is to describe what something sounds like. For example, buzz, whoosh, and boom, etc., all resonate with some sound.
Yes. The words like Quack, Thump, Howl, Purr, Belch, Neigh, Giggle etc. are all examples of onomatopoeic words.
The usage of or development of a term that phonetically mimics, resembles, or alludes to the sound that it describes is what onomatopoeia does. This is the factor that differentiates it from other types of word, literary devices and speech technique.
In formal language, onomatopoeic words are not often used. However, there are countless instances of them in regular discourse, making them exceedingly prevalent.
In literature and poetry, onomatopoeic words provide readers the closest connection of a visual and sensory element. This makes the reading more engaging as a whole.
Onomatopoeic words are useful in children’s literature as they provide fun rhyming words and rhythm in sentences. This helps children read better and remember the text through those words.
The pronunciation and spelling of onomatopoeic words are directly determined by the actual sound it makes. Hence, there are no certain spellings to rule to be spelled.
The process of adding new onomatopoeic words has no rules or boundaries. Instead, it’s all about the experiences and observation. With all of these feelings, writers add new onomatopoeic words that flow with the text.
The words of onomatopoeia form can be used both in spoken language and written form.
You will often find that words differ significantly, sometimes even between distinct ethnicities and cultures. As a result, it’s true that each language also has its own set of onomatopoeic terms when describing sounds.