Горбатюк О.П. The semantic classification of onomatopoeic words

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Горбатюк Оксана Петрівна – студентка Педагогічного інституту Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка, напрям підготовки «Початкова освіта», кафедра іноземних мов і методик їх навчання Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка

У статті розглянуто феномен ономатопеї як одного із шляхів створення слів. Автор описує етимологію слова «ономатопея» пояснює її визначення, ономатопеї, коментує щодо формування ономатопічних слів. Специфічні характеристики, семантичні класифікації, використання. Особливості перекладу і надає приклади.

Ключові слова: ономатопея, ономатопічні слова, імітація, звукова подібність, семантична класифікація.

В статье рассмотрено явления ономатопеи как одного из путей создания слов. Автор описывает этимологию слова «ономатопея», объясняет её определение, комментирует образование ономатопеических слов, специфические характеристики, семантические классификации, использование, особенности перевода и приводит их примеры.

Ключевые слова: ономатопея, ономатопеические слова, имитация, звуковое подобие, cемантическая классификация.

The article dwells upon the phenomenon of onomatopoeia as one of the ways of word creating. The author describes the etymology of the word “onomatopoeia”, explains its definition, comments on its formation, specific characteristics, semantic classifications, uses, peculiarities of interpretation and gives examples of them.

Key words: onomatopoeia, onomatopoeic words, imitation, sound similarity, semantic classification.


Relevance of the topic

We know that any language is coordinated as the structural system by relevant linguistic oppositions that allow the of use different variations of linguistic units in speech. This means that the speech activity provides an extremely high level of variability. That is why the speech intertwines both linguistic and extra-linguistic factors, namely external and social, which affect the language system, reflecting the peculiarities of the current stage of development of the linguistic community [1, p. 32].

As the proof of the statement mentioned above we would like to dwell upon the phenomenon of onomatopoeia which is the imitation of natural noises by speech sounds that is a great concern of linguists. Nowadays to understand this phenomenon, we must realize that there is a problem here which is by no means trivial. There is an infinite number of noises in nature, but only twenty-something letters in an alphabet that convey in any language a closed system of about fifty (up to a maximum of 100) speech sounds. English learners are well aware of difficulties in recognizing, understanding and interpreting the phenomenon of onomatopoeia. Therefore it is necessary to provide learners, future primary school teachers with a knowledge of the phenomenon and make them able to overcome every of the difficulties in the process of learning and teaching English.

The analysis of research

Onomatopoeic words have being discussed in the connection with the problem of the origin of language. Actually, the study of the onomatopoeic vocabulary as an independent object has started and has become important as well only in the last decade of the twentieth century. However, the research in this area was purely descriptive, which, of course, initially there was necessity for the accumulation of material and data features of onomatopoeic words in specific languages. Nowadays, when a significant sound imitation material of many languages of the world has been collected and processed, it seems possible and actual to start the typological study of onomatopoeic words, especially those ones which are closely related like established common patterns of their formation. The problem of onomatopoeia and its formation and manifestation have been investigated by East Slavic linguists L. I. Matsko, O. Germanovych, Y. F. Qasim and others. In their works well-known home (L. A Gorokhova, L. P. Yefimov, E. G. Megrabova, O. M. Tikhonov, V. V. Fatyukhin, L. O. Perlovskey, S. V. Voronin, I. O. Gatsenko, I. V. Arnold, G. B. Antrushina) and foreign linguists (David Crystal David, Herbert Weir Smyth, Linda Mawhinney, Mary Scott McTengue, Rajib Singha, Stefan Chiarantano, Arnaud Dessein, Guillaume Lemaitre, and others) have made their contribution into the research of the etymology of onomatopoeia, aspects of the complex analysis of onomatopoeic words in English, their assignment features, communicative functions, classifications, peculiarities of interpretation and comparative characteristics.

On the basis of the information which has been mentioned above we confirm that the onomatopoeic word world in modern English is great and various, and there is no doubt that its each aspect deserves our due attention.

The purpose formulation of research

Thus in our scientific research we’d like to make easier for learners and future primary school teachers to become aware of the phenomenon of onomatopoeia, to recognize, to understand, to comprehend and to interpret onomatopoeic words. In order to fulfill the purpose of our article investigation we set the following tasks: to explain the etymology of the word “onomatopoeia”, to notify its definition, to comment on characteristics of onomatopoeia as one of the ways of word formation, to illustrate the semantic classification of words formed by means of onomatopoeia, and to explore the structure of onomatopoeic words.

The main material

The concept of “onomatopoeia” (sometimes written as onomatopœia), traced from the earliest periods of antiquity of language development, and originated from the Greek ὀνοματοποιία; ὄνομα for “name” and ποιέω for “I make”, adjectival form: “onomatopoeic” or “onomatopoetic”) is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes [5, p. 949] .

I.R Galperin explains the phenomenon of onomatopoeia as the formation of words (sound imitation) [3, p.124]. I.V. Arnold confirms that onomatopoeia is a reflection of any act or phenomenon through the sounds that are associated with this word [1, p.103]. Onomatopoeic words (=onomatopoeia) are units of language and they use the sound system of the language, therefore they cannot be completely identical to natural sounds. Every language in its own way assimilates external world sounds, and onomatopoeia in its manifestations is different in different languages, though, sometimes, sound imitations are often similar. It explains that onomatopoeia is a subjective phenomenon. For instance, cock-a-doodle-do! Is conventionally the English representation of the cock’s crowning. It is interesting to mark the Ukrainians, the Russians and the French represent this imitation as кукуріку (Ukr.), кукареку (Rus.), and cocorico (Fr.) [4, p.247].

L.P Yefimov states that when sounds of nature, living beings and objects are imitated the acoustic form of a word fades and takes its back position, though it emphasizes its meaning. Therefore, the phonetic structure of speech is important for the creation of distinct values [3, p.36]

Famous linguists I.V. Arnold and I.R.Halperin thoroughly investigated the semantic classification of onomatopoeic words. According to I.V. Arnold’s investigation we distinguish the following groups of onomatopoeic words relating to the source of the sound:

1. The verbs that are inherently imitation of living beings are created in the process of communication and expression of feelings verbs created by living beings in the communication process or in expressing their feelings, e.g.: babble, giggle, whisper, mutter. This group of onomatopoeic words is the richest. For instance, the verb to talk has many variants: to babble – to say something quickly and foolishly or in a way that is hard to understand; to chatter – to talk quickly, continuously and for a long time, usually about something unimportant; to gabble – to say quickly, that cannot be heard clearly; to jaw – to talk tediously; to mutter – to say something indistinctly in a way that is hard to understand; to slur – to pronounce unclearly or not at all; to splutter – to talk or say quickly as if confused; to whisper – to speak or say very quietly, so that only a person close by can hear.

The verb to laugh can pass these words, e.g.: to cackle – to laugh unpleasantly with henlike sounds; to gurgle – to laugh quietly; ha-ha – a loud laugh; haw-haw – a loud laugh; tee-hee – a loud laugh.

The verb to weep (cry) also has a number of equivalent, e.g.: to blubber – to weep noisily; to grizzle – to cry quietly and continually as though tired and worried; to pule – to weep loudly; to sob – to cry while making short bursts of sound as one breaths in, because of sadness or fear; to weep – to cry bitterly with tears; to whine – to make a long high sad sound.

2. The sounds created by living but non-person beings such as animals, birds, and insects, e.g.: buzz – to make the continuous sound that bees make, croak – to make a deep low noise such a s a frog makes, moo – to make the sound that a cow makes, purr – to make the low continuous sound produced by a pleased cat, etc. This group of onomatopoeic words is rather large. Sound exists as much, as there are animals, or birds, or insects in nature, e.g.: cows – moo, low, hounds – bay, and wolves – howl. The characteristic feature of this group of words is that the sounds of animals, birds and insects transmit the different number of words. For example, goats – only bleat, ducks – quack, sparrows – peep (or chirp). But the dogs we hear – yelp, bark, growl, howl, whine, bow-vow, snarl. This goes for cats, owls, geese and horses. Some birds are called by their sounds: a crow (crow), a cuckoo (cuckoo) [].

3. The sounds of nature, e.g.: to blow – to cause sound by blowing; to bubble – to produce bubbles; to gurgle – to make a sound like water flowing unevenly; to gush – to break out forcefully; to pour – to flow steadily and rapidly; to splash – to fall, hit or move noisily in drops; to squirt – to force or be forced out in a thin fast stream; to thunder – to produce loud deep sounds; to trickle – to flow in drops or in a thin stream; to twister – to produce quick unclear sounds when whirling. We can say like sea murmuring, wind whistling, rustling of leaves, bursts of thunder [4, p.247].

4. The sounds that imitate clanking metal things, the sounds of bells, clocks, some mechanisms, guns, fire, e.g.: to bang – to beat sharply, violently; to clang – to make a loud ringing noise; to clank – to make a loud ringing sound; to clap – to hit loudly; to click – to make a short hart ringing sound; to pop – to make a short sound like a small explosion; to split - to make a harsh sound, when something breaks, tears .

5. The sounds of bells and clocks transmit these words, e.g.: tick – the short repeated sound that a clock or watch makes every; tick-tock – the noise that a large clock makes when it ticks; ting – a high clear ringing sound.

6. The sounds of different mechanisms are words like: blare – to make a very loud unpleasant sound; roar – a continuous loud noise, especially made by a machine or a strong wind; screech – if a vehicle or its wheels screech, they make a high loud unpleasant sound; burr – a fairly quiet regular sound like something turning quickly (machine); drone – to make a continuous low dull sound.

7. The sounds of noisy movement, e.g.: whack – a hard blow, clash – a loud metallic noise when two metal objects struck together, crash – to make a sudden loud noise [5].

Furthermore I.R.Halperin distinguishes two varieties of onomatopoeia: direct and indirect [3, pp.125-126]. Direct onomatopoeia is contained in words that imitate na¬tural sounds, as ding-dong, buzz, bang, cuckoo, tintinabulation, mew, ping-pong, roar and the like.

These words have different degrees of imitative quality. Some of them immediately bring to mind whatever it is that produces the sound. Others require the exercise of a certain amount of imagination to decipher it.

Onomatopoetic words can be used in a transferred meaning, as for instance, ding-dong, which represents the sound of bells rung continuously, may mean 1) noisy, 2) strenuously contested. Examples are: a ding-dong struggle, a ding-dong go at something.

In the following newspaper headline: DING-DONG ROW OPENS ON BILL, both meanings are implied.

Indirect onomatopoeia is a combination of sounds the aim of which is to make the sound of the utterance an echo of its sense. It is sometimes called “echo-writing”. An example is:

“And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain' (E. A. Poe), where the repetition of the sound [s] actually produces the sound of the rustling of the curtain.

Indirect onomatopoeia, unlike alliteration, demands some mention of what makes the sound, as rustling (of curtains) in the line above. The same can be said of the sound [w] if it aims at reproducing, let us say, the sound of wind. The word wind must be mentioned, as in:

“Whenever the moon and stars are set,

Whenever the wind is high,

All night long in the dark and wet

A man goes riding by.” (R. S. Stevenson)

Indirect onomatopoeia is sometimes very effectively used by repeating words which themselves are not onomatopoetic, as in Poe’s poem “The Bells” where the words tinkle and bells are distributed in the following manner:

“Silver bells... how they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle”

and further

“To the tintinabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells –

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.”


As the result of our investigation of the things relating to onomatopoeia such as its etymology, definition, formation, various types, classification, communicative functions, uses and manners, we should confess that sometimes it is difficult to recognize, understand and interpret onomatopoeic words. That’s why we need to continue our further researches especially relating to comprehension and interpretation of them in order to help English learners and future primary school teachers to overcome the difficulties in their study of English and future work as primary school teachers.

As the result of our investigation of the things relating to the etymology and definition of the notion “onomatopoeia” we have learnt that it is a large, variable and immensely interesting field of studies. While researching different semantic classifications of onomatopoeic words, we have found out that there are a great number of onomatopoeic words groups relating to the source of the sound making. These groups may include sounds created by living beings as well as living but non-personal beings in nature, different mechanisms, and even different processes surrounding us in this beautiful world. We also have observed the peculiarities of the onomatopoeic words structure.

In conclusion we should confess that the phenomenon of onomatopoeia in all its aspects is problematic as for difficulties in studying, and recognizing, understanding, interpretation, and at last using in practice. That’s why we need to continue our further researches especially relating to comprehension and interpretation of word-combinations, set expressions, idiomatic phrases in order to help English learners and future primary school teachers to overcome the difficulties in their study of English and future work as primary school teachers.


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