How does a Polish dog bark? What’s the sound of a Polish floor creaking? And how do you sneeze in Polish? Culture.pl takes a look at how Poles have come to express these and many other sounds… and the differences to the English system (or that of your native tongue) can be quite shocking.
A barking dog or a meowing cat must sound pretty much the same regardless of the region or the language spoken there, right? Well, not necessarily. As it turns out, the way these sounds have been expressed in different languages and across various cultures testifies to the great diversity of human perception and ways of encapsulating it as text. Some of these differences are surely a matter of cultural convention, but others point to different perception patterns, while others go back to contrasting biological environments.
Here’s a sample of how reality sounds to the Polish ear.
Wrrr, chrum, hau… or how does a Polish lion roar?
While the sounds of a cat meowing (miau) or a cow mooing (muuu) may seem quite similar in both languages (and actually many others), the sounds made by other animals known to both English and Polish speakers can be confusingly divergent. Here’s a couple of examples that show that some of these ‘Polish’ animals don’t sound anything like their English language counterparts:
Dogs barking (Eng. woof woof): Hau hau (the Polish verb is szczekać)
Pigs grunting (Eng. oink oink): Chrum chrum or kwik kwik (verb is kwiczeć)
Horses neighing (Eng. neigh): Iiii-haaa (verb: rżeć)
Roosters crowing (Eng. cock-a-doodle-doo): kukuryku (perhaps surprisingly, the verb is piać)
Lions roaring (Eng. roar): Wrrr or Grrr (verb: ryczeć)
Birds chirping (Eng. chirp chirp, tweet tweet, cheep cheep, peep peep): ćwir ćwir, fiu-fiu
Geese (Eng. honk honk):gę gę; Fittingly the word for goose in Polish is gęś, even more conveniently, the verb is gęgać.)
Hens clucking (Eng. cluck cluck): gdak gdak (gdakać)
Duck quacking (Eng. quack): kwak kwak (kwakać)
Frogs croaking (USA: ribbit, gribbit; UK: croak): kum kum, rech rech (the verb rechotać, could be also used of any loud or vulgar laughter, that is rechot)
Since frogs around the world can sound very different depending on the species (and the time of the year), the human onomatopoeia for their sound is also quite varied. Compare Polish frogs with their kum kum or rech rech, with the Vietnamese ồm ộp, the Russian kva kva, the Korean gaegul, or the classic Greek brekekekex koax koax.
Interestingly, the authors of Polish children’s verse also developed an onomatopoeia for the croak of happy frogs… It’s rade rade. Perhaps you’re wondering why Polish frogs might be happy… Maybe it’s because they haven’t got eaten by a Polish stork yet (which would go kle kle at them).
Horses running (Eng. clip clop): Patataj. One can’t help but notice that while the English horse sounds like it’s strolling along a cobbled town road, the Polish one seems to be in full gallop.
Flies buzzing (Eng. buzz): Bzzzzz or bzyk (the verb is bzyczeć)
Pigeons cooing (Eng. coo): gru gru(verb is gruchać). But be careful, the onomatopoeic word gruch represents a sudden and loud sound resulting from an impact or explosion, which is rather different (see below).
Pstryk, Dryń, Dzyń… Clicking, ringing, jingling… the Polish way
If the world of fauna was confusing, then what about the world of inanimate objects? Machines, cars, telephones… In theory, they should sound pretty much the same regardless of geographic location. But what about in Poland?
Cars honking (Eng. honk honk, beep beep, toot toot): Pi-bip, Pip-bip
Engines revving (Eng. vroom vroom, broom broom): Brummm or Wrrrrrr – (compare the verb warczeć, and noun warkot)
Doorbells ringing (Eng. ding-dong, bing-bong): Dryń dryń
Telephones ringing (Eng. ring ring, brrring brrring, ringaling): Dryń dryń – which means that the Polish phone sounds just like the Polish door bell, though newer electronic mobile phones are more likely to go biiiip or trrrr (compare the verb terkotać).
Sirens wailing (Eng. Nee naw, wee-woo, waow-waow): i-jaaaa or i-jooo – this is definitely a favourite with Polish children making their first sounds.
Trains whistling (Eng. choo choo, woo woo): Tu-tuuu! Again, Polish children love it. Just as they love Julian Tuwim’s poem The Locomotive, arguably the most popular Polish children’s verse, full of onomatopoeia and rhythmic patterns. Here’s the train, in original and translation, slowly starting its run:
Najpierw – powoli – jak żółw – ociężale / Ruszyła – maszyna – po szynach – ospale
Translation: 'Suddenly – she shudders – and then – starts to creep, / And shuffles – so slowly – like a snail – half asleep' (translated by Tomasz Wyżyński). Now you know why children in Poland call a train ciuchcia another obvious onomatopoeia.
Scissors cutting (Eng. snip): CiachYou can actually do something rach-ciach in Polish, meaning that it‘s done very quickly.
Cars crashing (Eng. boom, bam, wham, slam, bang, crash, clash, pow, thud): Bum, Trach, Bach
Machinery grinding/screeching (Eng. grind): Zgrzyt (verb: zgrzytać)
Camera shutters clicking (Eng. snap, click): pstryk or klik
Clock ticking (Eng. tick tock): tik tak or cyk; While tik tak invokes the dual rhythm which humans believe they can hear in the sound of a ticking clock, the cyk variant highlights the monotonous repetition of the one and the same sound made every second by the moving hand of a clock: cyk, cyk, cyk (verbs: tykać vs cykać).
Bells jingling (clink clank, dingle dangle): Dzyń-dzyńalso the sound of the Polish Santa Claus’s sleigh.
Computer mice clicking (Eng. click): well, it’s klik; but in other clicking circumstances, Poles would use a pstryk or trzask (see below).
Pyk, Skrzyp, Kap… Things that go bump in the night
With the sounds of the environment, we’re taking a plunge into a realm which is surely much less charted and harder to define for the human ear. So how do all these noises, rustles, and hums translate into Polish? Well, you’re bound to come across all this strange stuff reading Polish comic books.
Balloons bursting (Eng. bang): Bum!
Bubbles bursting (Eng. pop): Pyk!
Guns firing (Eng. bang, pow): Pif-paf (a machine gun is more like tratatatata)
Knocking on a door (Eng. knock): Puk puk (the verb is pukać)
Door/floor creaking (Eng. creak): Skrzyp
Fire crackling (Eng. crackle): Trzask
Thunder rumbling (Eng. roll, rumble, boom): Grzmot
Dripping water (Eng. Drip drop, plink plonk): Kap kap
Rain dropping (Eng. Dot a dot dot): Chlupu-chlup
Water rustling (Eng. rustle): Szsz (verb. szemrać) – this could be said also about wind or even whisper.
Water splashing (Eng. splash): Plusk
Objects falling hard on the ground (Eng. Thud!): Łup! Bum! (But the alternative Pierdut or Jeb! are even more popular; the latter is proof that Polish onomatopoeia can be vulgar, so it’s better not to use it!)
Glass breaking (Eng. smash): Brzdęk
For the sound of glass crunching under your shoe try using: Chrzęst! (from the verb: chrzęścić)
Steam hissing (Eng. Ssss): Buch! Syk! (verb: syczeć)
Branch cracking (Eng. Crack): Trzask! Also consider Trzask-prask – to do something briskly.
Apsik, Chropsi, Uff… The sounds of Polish humans?
And finally, how does human-induced Polish onomatopoeia differ from that of English speakers? Here are a couple of examples which will teach you how to moan, groan, or yawn like a Pole:
Sneezing (Eng. achoo): Apsik! (verb. kichać)
Snoring (Eng. Zzzzzzz...): Chro-psi / Chrrr... (verb: chrapać)
Yawning (Eng. Yawn): Ziew (verb ziewać)
Heart beating (Eng. Hump thump, ba boom, ba bump, lub-dub): Bu-bum
Laughter (Eng. haha): hahaha or hihihi – but you can also come across the alternative spelling cha-cha and chi-chi (the pronunciation is the same).
Sigh of relief (Eng. Phew): Uffff!!!
Thinking/Pause (Eng. er, erm, uh, uhm): Hmmm...
Hmmm... sounds much the same as the English equivalent, but you may also come across something like Mmmmmm, used in similar circumstances
Slurping (Eng. Slurp): Siorb (from siorbać), another one to avoid while eating would be mlask from mlaskać – smacking lips, clicking tongues), but there are others like glamać.
Kissing (Eng. mwah, smooch, smack): cmok not to be confused with smok, which means 'dragon'!
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, 27 Nov 2016