From ruff ruff to ow ow

Posted by on November 16, 2009

© Kate Sumners - Fotolia.com

In our weekly roundup a couple of weeks ago there was a link to a pretty fascinating article entitled: Babies May Pick Up Language Cues in the Womb (with a title that thorough, who needs an article?!). Anyway.

“The finding suggests that newborns just a few days old may already be trying to imitate the prevailing intonation patterns of the language they heard while still in the womb.”

I’m sold on this. I live in an international little community here in Oxford and,  for sure, the Danish, German and Malaysian kids who live within earshot of our house, cry in accents. I, obviously, haven’t done any real / thorough / scientific / valid research in this area, so this is just typing out loud …

To extrapolate a bit on the general idea of this article: my son has a German friend and a Danish friend, they are all more or less the same age (between 3 and 4). I was listening to them playing the other day and … wait for it … their dinosaur sounds are all language-specific; their dinosaurs growl, stomp and terrorise small hapless My Little Ponies (innocently passing by in swirls of pink and mauve) in accents. They do.

I am weirdly obsessed (in a part-time sense) by the way that different people with different nationalities make different sounds when imitating animals. My dogs go ruff ruff, my English friend’s dogs sound more like woof woof, which is not dissimilar. BUT Taiwanese kids (and I have in fact researched this at length by personally asking many Taiwanese students to bark), their dogs go wung wung. I am told by a colleague sitting next to me that Greek dogs go gruv gruv – with a sort of growl on the ‘gr’. And my Brazilian friend says Portuguese speaking dogs go ow ow.

I might just have weird friends. What sound does your bark make?

Read more about global English.

Email this Post Email this Post
Comments (8)
  • Very interesting stuff! (this coming from an EFLteacher)
    I’d say most Argentine dogs go “guau guau”.

    Posted by Beatriz on 16th November, 2009
  • You’ll find an interesting list here:

    http://www.eleceng.adelaide.edu.au/personal/dabbott/animal.html

    Posted by Mike Sheehan on 16th November, 2009
  • Wow, Mike, fantastic: an actual list, a table! I am going to be poring over this for days to come. Great link, thanks.

    Posted by Laine Cole on 16th November, 2009
  • Dogs in Greek go ghav ghav with gh (γ) being a letter that doesn’t exist in English (although it exists in many other languages). Apparently dogs in Greece speak a different language than dogs in the rest of the world! :-p
    I also took a look at the list and it is very nice!

    Posted by Tatiana on 19th November, 2009
  • Thanks for the list! It’s impressive!
    Dogs in Serbia bark with /av-av/.
    We live in Ireland and I’ve tested Irish cats (I’m a bit scared of dogs) and found that they do not respond to Serbian call for cats ‘come here’ /mac-mac/, but they do when I say ‘come, kitty, come’. It would be interesting to observe the behaviour of one of the cats (or any domestic animal), in the environment of a foreign human language.

    Posted by Ruzica on 21st November, 2009
  • Well, that’s very interesting. We feed a cat in Oxford that has lived there his whole life, but he totally responds to everything we say to him in Greek. He even responds to the name we have given him, which is not the name that he had all these years. Perhaps cats in Ireland have stronger opinions about their identities and the language they wish to be spoken to. 🙂

    Posted by Tatiana on 21st November, 2009
  • I can confirm that there is such a thing as a multilingual cat. We have a 16-year-old Tom cat who understands English, Dutch and Hungarian equally well, especially when the talk concerns his dinner. You may be familiar with this Gary Larson cartoon: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sluggerotoole/153603564/ – one of my favourites.

    Posted by Kati Sule on 21st November, 2009
  • Excellent cartoon! Not only people hear what they choose, but dogs do too. 🙂
    The cats I ‘tested’ were just some cats I saw in the street and I didn’t feed them. I supppose they would understand any language if the person was speaking behind a dish of fish. 🙂

    Posted by Ruzica on 21st November, 2009
Leave a Comment
* Required Fields