Today on Confused Laowai, I’m featuring a post by Christina from FluentU. In case you are unfamiliar with them, they’re a language learning company that uses authentic video for personalized language learning. You can check them out here.
Ever want to type “haha” or “boom!” during a conversation but you pause and think, “wait, how do you write this word?”. I’ve been there many times and always feel that without the onomatopoeia, my sentence loses a bit of the exact meaning I want to communicate. From reading Niel’s post on onomatopoeia, it gave me inspiration to look further into more Chinese onomatopoeias.
Just how do you say “woof” when a dog barks? How do you express the sound of the ping pong ball bouncing back and forth on the table? After looking through the internet and much research, I wanted to share some of the information I found.
You would never be able to visit a zoo or sing Old McDonald’s without these: animal sounds!
The reason I looked into this was because I was texting one of my Chinese friends about my morning. I woke up to the sound my neighbor’s dog barking consistently for fifteen minutes at a squirrel. I wanted to text them “woof” for extra measure but didn’t know how to so had to look it up. Turns out, to say “woof” in Chinese, is “wang” in pinyin.
Here’s how you can use this word: “我邻居的狗不停地叫，汪汪汪!” - “My neighbor’s dog didn’t stop barking, woof, woof, woof!”
They’re so useful in many occasions, here are some more onomatopoeias for animals!
嗥/嚎 (háo) - awoo; howl吼 (hǒu) - roar 哞 (mōu) - moo 布谷 (bù gǔ) - cuckoo; chirp 嗷呜 (áo wū) - growl 嗯昂 (ēn áng) - hee haw 吱吱 (zhī zhī) - tweet 咩咩 (miē miē) - baah; bleating 喵喵 (miāo miāo) - meow 咯咯 (gē gē) - cluck 哼哼 (hēng hēng) - oink 嗡嗡 (wēng wēng) - buzz; hum 嘶嘶 (sī sī) - hiss 嘶嘶 (sī sī) - neigh 吱吱 (zhī zhī) - squeak 汪汪 (wāng wāng) - woof 嘎嘎 (gā gā) - quack 咕咕 (gū gū) - coo 呱呱 (guā guā) - ribbit 唧唧 (jī jī) - chirping of insects 呜呜 (wū wū) - hoot; loud raucous cry (like an owl) 叽叽喳喳 (jī ji chā chā) - chirp 喔喔喔 (ō ō ō) - cock-a-doodle-doo; crow
One of the most versatile one character expressions, and my personal favorite is “啪 (pā)” or similar to “pop!” in English. However, you could use it in so many situations and depending on the situation, the meaning doesn’t directly translate into “pop”.
For example, when joking with my friends and pretending that I’d smack them for an inappropriate joke, I can make the motion of hitting (but purposely missing) them while saying “啪!” If you do a couple of slaps, say three back and forths then say “啪,啪,啪!”
Though the first example is the most common way to use this word, another way to use “啪” can be describing something that’s fallen. “我的手机啪就掉下马桶了” or “My cell phone fell into the toilet, plat!”
When walking on the street and all of a sudden you see an interesting sign that is hanging in the window of a shop you can say “我走在马路上的时候，啪，就看到了标记” meaning “When I was walking on the street, voila, I saw the sign.”
I could go on and on with more examples but basically, I haven’t found a situation (though there are some) where I couldn’t use this word! Below you’ll find some other one character onomatopoeias.
One Character Onomatopoeias
啊 (à) - ah! 啊 (á) - huh? 诶 (éi) - eh? 呀 (ya) - eek! 哇 (wa) - wow! 啪 (pā) - pop! 哦 (ó) - oh? 哦 (ò) - oh! 嗬 (hē) - hoy! 唷 (yō) - yo 唉 (ài) - alas 吁 (yù) - sigh 呃 (è) - er 啦 (la) - la 嘘 (xū) - hush 呸 (pēi) - bah 嘭 (pēng) - Boom!
After spending a year in China, I’ve become a lot more Chinese with my expressions and natural reactions.
Before living in the Far East, if I forgot something or if I would drop something I’d say “ah!” or “oh crap!” Well, now instead I say “哎呀!” which means “oops!” in Chinese.
A great way to express surprise or “whoa!” would be 哇塞 (wa sāi). You can use this is together with “厉害” (powerful;strong). One of my coworkers went to work only wearing a t-shirt when it was 50 degrees out to teach his class. All the students told him “哇塞, 好厉害!” or “Whoa! So strong!”
Here are some more two character onomatopoeias in Chinese.
Two Character Onomatopoeias
咝咝 (sī sī) - pssst 哈哈 (hā hā) - haha 呵呵 (hē hē) - hehe 咯咯 (gē gē) - chuckle/giggle 嘿嘿 (hēi hēi) - hey hey 嘻嘻 (xī xī) - hee hee 吼吼 (ho ho) - ho ho (like ‘haha’ used online) 啧啧 (zé zé) - tsk/tut-tut 咕哝 (gū nóng) - grunt 啊呀 (a ya) - oh no!; come on! 啊哈 (a ha) - aha! 哎呀 (āi ya) - oops!; whoops! 哎哟 (āi yō) - ow!; ouch! 哇塞 (wa sāi) - whoa! 飕飕 (sōu sōu) - soft swishing sound 哗哗 (huā huā) - splash 呼呼 (hū hū) - sound of something in rapid motion 嘟嘟 (dū dū) - toot; beep; blasting of a horn 潺潺 (chán chán) - sound of flowing water 汩汩 (gǔ gǔ) - bubbling sound of water flowing from a bottle with a narrow neck 沙沙 (shā shā) - rustle; leaves blowing in the wind 咚咚 (dōng dōng) - thump; heavy dull sound (knock on the door) 滋滋 (zī zī) - sizzle; sound of deep frying. 轰隆 (hōng lóng) - rumbling; like thunder; sounds of a distant battle 哗啦 (huā lā) - crash 咕嘟 (gū dū) - flow of an irregular current with a bubbling noise. 阿嚏 (ā tì) - achoo! 呼咻 (hū xiū) - whoosh 扑哧 (pū chī) - nervous laughter 呼噜 (hū lū) - snore 呼哧 (hū chī) - panting 啪哒 (pā dā) - plop; sound of object falling into water 咔哒 (kā dā) - chatter 咔嚓 (kā chā) - snap; sudden sharp noise. 哧溜 (chī liū) - whish 嘎吱 (gā zhī) - creak 滴答 (dī dā) - tick-tock
You’ll often hear chatter that you can’t really make out clearly. Here’s the perfect onomatopoeia: 叽里咕噜 (jī li gū lū).
Say you walk into a cafe and hear a bunch of people in the background talking. You can’t make out exactly what they’re saying but you know they’re in the cafe. You can say “他们在叽哩咕噜什么?” or “What are they muttering about?”
Four Character Expressions
叽叽呱呱 (jī jī guā guā) - the noise of talking, gossiping, chatter 嘟嘟囔囔 (dū dū nāng nāng) - mutter to oneself. 乒乒乓乓 (pīng pīng pāng pāng) - sound of something colliding with each other (especially to describe the sound of the ping pong ball in table tennis) 扑通扑通 (pū tōng pū tōng) - sound of something jumping or dropping one by one into the water 叽里咕噜 (jī li gū lū) - conversation among some people which others couldn’t hear clearly 叽里呱啦 (jī li guā lā) - someone’s voice talking annoyingly loud 劈里啪啦 (pī lǐ pā lā) - sound of firecrackers 稀里哗啦 (xī lǐ huā lā) - sound of rain pouring or something collapsing 丁零当啷 (dīng ling dāng lāng) - sound of metal works or porcelain clashing
Well there you have it. Any other Chinese onomatopoeias you can think of? Feel free to comment below!