〈4〉 ◆ chap 1 “ What a strange language Japanese is ! ”
part 3. Pandora's Box of onomatopoeia
The imitative or mimetic words are referred as "Onomatopoeia" in English, "Onomatopeya" in Spanish, or "Onomatopée " in French. For some reason, there is no such general term in Japanese.
As you may know, imitative words of natural sounds are such as "rain falls zaa-zaa (sound of continuous heavy rain)", "wind blows hyuu-hyuu (sound of howling wind)" and "the door closes batan (sound of slamming)". Imitative words of voices are such as "a dog barks wan-wan (bow wow)", "a sheep cries meh-meh (baa)", a girl screams kyaa-kyaa (eeeek). Mimetic words include "a snake is doing nyoro-nyoro (wriggly movement)", "bread was baked kongari (well-browned)", "Having eyes gyoro (goggling)" and so on.
Also there are other things like mimetic words of feelings such as "my body feels it zawa-zawa (uneasy)", "my spine feels it zootto (chilling)", "I forgot the wallet ukkari (carelessly) ...and there is a word "saku-saku" which could be used to expresses how comfortable it is to work on the computer.. Just as Japanese is said to be "the language of the right brain", it is a treasury of onomatopoeia. It is impossible to count the number of them.
A dictionary of onomatopoeia that I found before contained several thousand words, so there must be at least ten thousand words. I am sure new expressions are born one after the other in this very moment too.
This is a big obstacle for the people going to learn Japanese.
First you need to learn fifty characters each of Hiragana and Katakana. Then you would need about two thousand characters of kanji (at least), plus these ten thousand onomatopoeias, so it would be extremely difficult to master all of these.
But, why are there so many onomatopoeias in Japanese?
There were probably many onomatopoeic words in Europe as well. Everywhere in the world, small children begin to imitating the sound, of dogs, birds, or other things as they chatter. However in the western world, as children gets older, they replace those words with grammatical expressions such as formal verbs or adjectives.
For example, there is a Spanish word "chapotear", which means that "making watery sound". This must be nothing but "pocha-pocha (watery sound)" in Japanese. It was just "chapo-chapo" in Spanish.
In the case of animal's voice, the Japanese onomatopoeia for cats is "nyaa" or "nya-o", and corresponding Spanish onomatopoeia is "miau". But in conversation, they use it by changing the word to verb form "maullar". Likewise, dogs, cows and sheep have unique verbs but they don't have the convenient verb corresponding to Japanese "Naku (word for cries of animals)" which is commonly used as "Inu ga wan wan naku (a dog barks wan-wan)" or "tori ga pii-chiku naku (a bird sings pii-chiku)". So you have to memorize each verb and that can be quite troublesome for Japanese people.
Still, onomatopoeia is definitely a very convenient, excellent tool!!
For instance, Japanese people often use onomatopoeias at hospitals and pharmacies. Even after becoming mature adults, they keep using onomatopoeia to describe their symptoms. "My stomach got shiku-shiku (dull pain)", "my head got zuki-zuki (throbbing pain)", "my throat got hiri-hiri (burning pain)" or "my eyes got chika-chika (flickering)"...
When I was a little child, my father scolded me a lot. "No! You have to explain more shikkari (firmly)!", "you have to express it more hakkiri (clearly), like 'an elephant is stepping on my stomach and dancing', or 'my intestine got squeezed like a wiping cloth!'" (Well, but shikkari and hakkiri are onomatopoeias too...).
My father was sort of xenomania. Indeed Westerners might have to tell the doctor like this. But for me, this just makes it annoying to go to the hospital.
But Japanese language has a rich onomatopoeia. When you use them, you can tell what the symptoms are without much trouble. And Doctors can easily understand the patient's conditions like "Oh, I got it. Take this medicine then".
That's right, the world of Kenji Miyazawa (Japanese fantasy novelist) lives in the heart of Japanese.
There is a nostalgic song like this,
ZUI ZUI ZUKKORO BASHI GOMAMISO ZUI
CHATSUBO NI OWARETE DOPPINSHAN
(tea pot) (by) (being chased)
NUKETARA DONDOKOSHO TAWARANONEZUMI GA KOMEKUTTE CHU-
(if get out) (mouse of the bale) (eating the rice)
CHU- CHU- CHU-
It is full of onomatopoeia (all underlined and colored words) that we don't know what they mean anymore by now.
Japanese is Pandora's Box of onomatopoeia !
Freely describe your thoughts with the wealth of feelings !!
ーーー The next post will be
<5> chap 1 “ What a strange language Japanese is ! ”
part 4. Different people, different language
This is published ⇩
See you, soon !!
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