Animal noises

The following dilemma is tormenting petite anglaise, an English 30-something living in Paris : should she teach her daughter animal noises in English or in French? It is a tricky issue, although I’m sure the little girl will grow up to be bilingual and will converse with French and English-speaking animals alike without any problem.

This difference in onomatopoeias according to languages illustrates perfectly the fact that language shapes our understanding of the world. Same animals, same noises, but we hear them differently. Here are a few examples for English and French; for a more complete guide on English/French onomatopoeias, click here.





ouah! ouah! (wah! wah!)

woof! woof!


miaou (meeaahoo)



cocorico (kokoreeko)



glou glou (gloo gloo)

gobble gobble


meuh (myrrh)



cui cui (kwee kwee)

tweet tweet


coin coin (kwan kwan)

quack quack


groin goin (grwan grwan)

oink oink


hi-han (ee-an)


It also reminds me that someone once told me that in the English version of the Tintin comics, Snowball’s bark isn’t translated (he goes ouah! ouah!). I wonder whether that was a conscious decision from the translator or whether he or she didn’t realise that animals don’t sound the same in English and in French.

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:45+00:00 September 24th, 2004|Culture|5 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Jez September 24, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    You got the English cow noise wrong. Here, they go “cockadoodledoo” (they’re all mad).

  2. Pamela Heywood September 29, 2004 at 5:52 pm

    I have six Spanish cats and a dog. Interestingly, they SPEAK exactly the same language as any I had in England or met anywhere else in the world.
    I’ve pondered this at length actually: it seems it is only we humans who have difficulty communicating across cultural and national borders.
    But this is an interesting dilemma, because as a 40 something adult, sometimes I feel silly when I need to explain something (maybe to the vet) and don’t know the Spanish word for an animal utterance – that everyone else learned as a toddler.
    I guess they must be treated as any other words: integral parts of their respective languages.

  3. jim October 2, 2004 at 6:54 pm

    My favorite onomatopoeic sound is the Danish for how a pig sounds: øf. Sounds like the French for egg.

  4. Warren October 15, 2004 at 9:52 pm

    Take heart Jez, I got that one!
    Puns, play-on-words, twisted meanings, cryptic’s, esoteric’s – anything related to the multi-meanings of words, excites me!
    Your “mad” is our “crazy” and our “mad” is our slang for “angry”.
    Kinda like the English Biscuit is our Cookie and the Scone is our Biscuit.
    I so greatly enjoy Celine’s Blog. There are few places where meanings are discussed.
    “On a different note”, we used to say that Americans spoke the English language. However, our language is in such a state of Flux that it has evolved, due to the large number of Cultures inputting into that general “melting pot”. We “no longer speak english, we talk american”.
    I’ve been alive over half a century and can tell you of changes, new words and, sadly, the deterioration of the rules of grammar and spelling.
    Warren aka Rym Rytr (Rhyme Writer)

  5. Qov October 22, 2004 at 6:18 am

    She should say to her daughter, “le canard dit ‘coin coin’,” and “The duck says ‘quack quack’.”
    Kids know that the ‘word’ the animal says is a representation. If the girl can handle a duck having a different name in French and English she should be able to accept it having two different voices.
    When I was a kid I was asked “What does a duck say?” I suppose I couldn’t remember the correct answer so I guessed: “Duck, duck, duck?” I think that’s evidence that I knew that I was looking for a representative word, not the real sound.

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