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Talking Like the Animals

Words for Animals Sounds Vary by Language


Cat in mirror.

El gato maulla. (The cat meows.)

Photo by Christian Holmér; licensed via Creative Commons.

If a cow says "moo" in English, what does she say in Spanish? Mu, of course.

But when we're talking about sounds that animals make, it isn't always that simple. Although the words we give to animal sounds are an example of onomatopoeia (onomatopeya in Spanish), meaning words that are intended to imitate sounds, those sounds aren't perceived the same in all languages or all cultures.

For example, take the lowly frog, who says "ribbit" when he's in the United States. But according to a compilation done by Catherine Ball of the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University, the source of much of the information in this article, take that same frog to France, and he says "coa-coa." Take him to Korea, and he says "gae-gool-gae-gool." And in Argentina he says "¡berp!"

Following is a chart showing the sounds that some animals make in Spanish, the corresponding verbs forms where they exist (in parentheses), and English equivalents. Keep in mind that some of these terms can vary by country, and that there very well may be other terms in use. That shouldn't be surprising — after all, in English we use words such as "bark," "bow-wow," "ruff-ruff" and "arf" to imitate the sound of a dog. There also may be a variety of spelling alternatives.

Note also that in Spanish it is possible to use the verb hacer to put a sound in verb form. For example, one could say "the pig oinks" by saying "el cerdo hace oink-oink."

The following list shows the sounds made by various "Spanish-speaking" animals. Special verb forms, where they exist, are in parenthesis following the word(s) for the sound. English forms follow the dash:

  • abeja (bee): bzzz (zumbar) — buzz
  • búho (owl): uu uu (ulular) — who, hoo, hoot
  • burro (donkey): iii-aah (rebuznar) — heehaw
  • caballo (horse): jiiiiiii, iiiiou (relinchar) — neigh, n-a-a-a-y
  • cabra (goat): bee bee (balar) — b-a-a-a-a
  • cerdo (pig): oink-oink, oinc-oinc (grunir) — oink
  • cuco (cuckoo): cúcu-cúcu — cuckoo
  • cuervo (crow): cruaaac-cruaaac — caw
  • gallina (hen): coc co co coc (cacarear), kara-kara-kara-kara — cluck
  • gallo (rooster): kikirikí, ki-kiri-ki (cantar) — cock-a-doodle-doo
  • gato (cat): miau (maullar) — meow
  • león (lion): grrrr, grgrgr (rugir) — roar, growl
  • oveja (sheep): bee, mee (balar) — b-a-a-a-h
  • mono (monkey): i-i-i
  • paloma (dove): cu-curru-cu-cú (arrullar)) — coo
  • pato (duck): cuac cuac — quack
  • pavo (turkey): gluglú — gobble
  • perro (dog): guau guau, guau (ladrar) — bark, bow-wow, arf, ruff
  • pollito (chick): pío pío — chirp
  • rana (frog): cruá cruá, berp, croac (croar) — ribbit, croak
  • tigre (tiger): ggggrrrr, grgrgr (rugir) — roar, growl
  • vaca (cow): mu, muuu (mugir) — moo
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