Protasova A.V. Onomatopoeia as one of the instrumental types of phonetic stylistic devices

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Протасова Анастасія Вікторівна – 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 розглянено явище ономатопеї як одного із інструментальних видів фонетичних стилістичних прийомів. Автор констатує етимологію ономатопеї, вводить її визначення, коментує формування, аспекти комплексного аналізу ономатопеїчних слів в англійській мові, їх специфічні характеристики, комунікативні функції, класифікацію, використання, манеру, особливості перекладу та надає приклади.

Ключові слова: ономатопея, фонетичні стилістичні прийоми, імітація, звукова подібність, класифікація, пряма, непряма, суб’єктивне явище, характеристики, використання, манера, переклад.

В статье рассмотрено явления ономатопеи как одного из инструментальных типов фонетических приёмов. Автор констатирует об этимологии ономатопеи, вводит её определение, комментирует формирование, аспекты комплексного анализа ономатопеических слов в английском языке, их специфические характеристики, коммуникативные функции, классификацию, использование, манеру, особенности перевода и приводит примеры.

Ключевые слова: ономатопея, фонетические стилистические приёмы, имитация, звуковое подобие, классификация, прямая, косвенная, субъективное явление, характеристики, использование, манера, перевод (толкование).

The article dwells upon the phenomenon of onomatopoeia as one of the instrumental types of phonetic stylistic devices. The author ascertains the etymology of the word “onomatopoeia”, introduces its definition, comments on its formation, aspects of the complex analysis of onomatopoeic words in English, their specific characteristics, communicative functions, classifications, uses and manner, peculiarities of interpretation and give examples of them.

Key words: onomatopoeia, phonetic stylistic devices, imitation, aural similarity, classification, direst, indirect, subjective phenomenon, characteristics, use, manner, interpretation.


Problem setting

Onomatopoeia 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.

Last scientific researches and publications analysis

At present the figure of speech that suggests or imitates the origin of a particular sound and is known as onomatopoeia has been investigated by a great number of home and foreign linguists. In their works L.A Gorokhova, G.V. Gorbanevska, E.G. Megrabova, O.M. Tikhonov, V.V. Fatyukhin, L.O. Perlovskey, S.V. Voronin, I.O. Gatsenko, I.V. Arnold, G.B. Antrushina, David Crystal David, Herbert Weir Smyth, Linda Mawhinney, Mary Scott McTengue, Rajib Singha, Stefan Chiarantano, Arnaud Dessein, Guillaume Lemaitre, and others describe thoroughly the etymology of onomatopoeia, its formation, aspects of the complex analysis of onomatopoeic words in English, their assignment features, specific characteristics, communicative functions, classifications and peculiarities of interpretation.

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.

Formulation of the article’s purpose

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. That’s why we explain the etymology of the word “onomatopoeia”, notify its definition, comment on its formation, aspects of the complex analysis of onomatopoeic words in English, their assignment features, specific characteristics, communicative functions, classifications, uses and manner, peculiarities of interpretation and give examples of them.

The statement of basic material of investigation

An onomatopoeia (sometimes written as onomatopœia), from the Greek νοματοποιία; νομα 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. Onomatopoeia (as an uncountable noun) refers to the property of such words. Common occurrences of onomatopoeias include animal noises, such as “oink” or “meow” or “roar” or “chirp”. Onomatopoeias are not the same across all languages; they conform to some extent to the broader linguistic system they are part of; hence the sound of a clock may be tick tock in English, dī dā in Mandarin, or katchin katchin in Japanese.

Although in the English language the term onomatopoeia means the imitation of a sound, in the Greek language the compound word onomatopoeia (ονοματοποιία) means “making or creating names”. For words that imitate sounds the term Ηχομιμητικό (echomimetico or echomimetic) is used. Ηχομιμητικό (echomimetico) from Ηχώ meaning “echo or sound” and μιμητικό meaning “mimetic or imitation”.

The first known use of the word “onomatopoeia” is in 1577. Linguists define onomatopoeia as one of the instrumental types of phonetic stylistic devices. It is a combination of speech-sounds which aims at imitating sounds produced in nature (wind wailing, sea murmuring, rustling of leaves, bursts of thunder, etc.), by things (machines or tools, etc.), by people (sighing, laughter, patter of feet, etc.) and by animals (barking – bow-wow, mooing – moo-moo, etc.). Words which represent this figure of speech have aural similarity with the things they describe: buzz, hiss, sizzle, twitter, pop, swish, burble, splash, crash, etc.

Combinations of speech sounds of this type will inevitably be associated with whatever produces the natural sound. Therefore the relation between onomatopoeia and the phenomenon it is supposed to represent is one of metonymy (Metonymy is transference of a name of one object to another object. Metonymic transference of names is based upon the principle of contiguity of the two objects.

For example: table’s leg, teapot’s nose (lexical metonymy); The fish swallowed her death and the float went down (contextual metonymy).

There are two varieties of onomatopoeia: direct and indirect. 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.”

Alongside obviously onomatopoetic words as tinkle, tintinabulation and jingling the word bells is drawn into the general music of the poem and begins to display onomatopoetic properties through the repetition. Here is another example: “Mostly he moved in urgent, precise, clipped movements – go, go, go – and talked the same way – staccato sentences.”

The onomatopoetic effect is achieved by the repetition of the unonomatopoetic word ‘go’ the pronunciation of which is prompted by the word ‘clipped’, suggesting short, quick, abrupt motions. One seems even to hear the sound of his footsteps.

A skilful example of onomatopoetic effect is shown by Robert Southey in his poem “How the Water Comes down at Ladore.” The title of the poem reveals the purpose of the writer. By artful combination of words ending in -ing and by the gradual increase of the number of words in successive lines, the poet achieves the desired sound effect. The poem is rather too long to be reproduced here, but a few lines will suffice as illustrations: “And nearing and clearing, And falling and crawling and sprawling, And gleaming and streaming and steaming and beaming, And in this way the water comes down at Ladore.”

It is worth touching out the aspect of the uses of onomatopoeia. In the case of a frog croaking, the spelling may vary because different frog species around the world make different sounds: Ancient Greek brekekekex koax koax (only in Aristophanes’ comic play The Frogs) for probably marsh frogs; English ribbit for species of frog found in North America; English verb “croak” for the common frog.

Some other very common English-language examples include hiccup, zoom, bang, beep, moo, and splash. Machines and their sounds are also often described with onomatopoeia, as in honk or beep-beep for the horn of an automobile, and vroom or brum for the engine. When someone speaks of a mishap involving an audible arcing of electricity, the word “zap” is often used (and has subsequently been expanded and used to describe non-auditory effects generally connoting the same sort of localized but thorough interference or destruction similar to that produced in short-circuit sparking).

For animal sounds, words like quack (duck), moo (cow), bark or woof (dog), roar (lion), miaow or purr (cat) and baa (sheep) are typically used in English. Some of these words are used both as nouns and as verbs.

Some languages flexibly integrate onomatopoeic words into their structure. This may evolve into a new word, up to the point that it is no longer recognized as onomatopoeia. One example is English “bleat” for the sheep noise: in medieval times it was pronounced approximately as “blairt” (but without an R-component), or “blet” with the vowel drawled, which is much more accurate as onomatopoeia than the modern pronunciation.

An example of the opposite case is “cuckoo”, which, due to continuous familiarity with the bird noise down the centuries, has kept approximately the same pronunciation as in Anglo-Saxon times and its vowels have not changed as they have in the word “furrow”. Verba dicendi are a method of integrating onomatopoeia and ideophones into grammar.

Sometimes things are named from the sounds they make. In English, for example, there is the universal fastener which is named for the onomatopoeic of the sound it makes: the zip (in the UK) or zipper (in the U.S.). Many birds are named after their calls, such as the Bobwhite quail, the Weero, the Morepork, the killdeer, chickadee, the cuckoo, the chiffchaff, the whooping crane and the whip-poor-will. In Tamil and Malayalam, the word for crow is kaakaa. This practice is especially common in certain languages such as Māori and, therefore, in names of animals borrowed from these languages.

Comic strips and comic books made extensive use of onomatopoeia. Popular culture historian Tim DeForest noted the impact of writer-artist Roy Crane (1901–1977), the creator of Captain Easy and Buz Sawyer: It was Crane who pioneered the use of onomatopoeic sound effects in comics, adding “bam,” “pow” and “wham” to what had previously been an almost entirely visual vocabulary. Crane had fun with this, tossing in an occasional “ker-splash” or “lickety-wop” along with what would become the more standard effects. Words as well as images became vehicles for carrying along his increasingly fast-paced storylines.

In 2002, DC Comics introduced a villain named Onomatopoeia, an athlete, martial artist and weapons expert who often speaks sounds.

Advertising uses onomatopoeia as a mnemonic, so consumers will remember their products, as in Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh, what a relief it is!” jingle, recorded in two different versions (big band and rock) by Sammy Davis, Jr. Rice Krispies (US and UK) and Rice Bubbles (AU) make a “snap, crackle, pop” when one pours on milk. During the 1930s, the illustrator Vernon Grant developed Snap, Crackle and Pop as gnome-like mascots for the Kellogg Company.

Sounds surface in road safety advertisements: “clunk click, every trip” (click the seatbelt on after clunking the car door closed; UK campaign) or “click, clack, front and back” (click, clack of connecting the seatbelts; AU campaign) or “click it or ticket” (click of the connecting seatbelt; US DOT campaign).

As for the manner of imitation we’d like to emphasize that in many of the world’s languages, onomatopoeia-like words are used to describe phenomena apart from the purely auditive. Japanese often utilizes such words to describe feelings or figurative expressions about objects or concepts. For instance, Japanese barabara is used to reflect an object's state of disarray or separation, and shiiin is the onomatopoetic form of absolute silence (used at the time an English speaker might expect to hear the sound of crickets chirping or a pin dropping in a silent room, or someone coughing). It is used in English as well with terms like bling, which describes the glinting of light on things like gold, chrome or precious stones. In Japanese, kirakira is used for glittery things.

The concept of onomatopoeia words can be difficult to understand without examples. Examples give you the chance to better understand the onomatopoeia concept and to see and sound out actual words.

This article lists five categories of onomatopoeic words with several examples of each. The list of includes words with letter combinations that are commonly used to represent certain sounds. It isn’t an exhaustive list of onomatopoeic words, but it’s a good start to understand the onomatopoeia concept.

Many times, you can tell what an onomatopoeic word is describing based on letter combinations contained within the word. These combinations usually come at the beginning, but a few also come at the end.

The following examples have been grouped according to how they are used.

  1. Words Related to Water – These words often begin with sp- or dr-. Words that indicate a small amount of liquid often end in -le (sprinkle/drizzle): bloop, splash, spray, sprinkle, squirt, drip, drizzle, etc.
  2. Words Related to the Voice – Sounds that come from the back of the throat tend to start with a gr- sound whereas sounds that come out of the mouth through the lips, tongue and teeth begin with mu-: giggle, growl, grunt, gurgle, mumble, murmur, bawl, belch, chatter, blurt, etc.
  3. Words Related to Collisions – Collisions can occur between any two or more objects. Sounds that begin with cl- usually indicate collisions between metal or glass objects, and words that end in -ng are sounds that resonate. Words that begin with th- usually describe dull sounds like soft but heavy things hitting wood or earth: bam, bang, clang, clank, clap, clatter, click, clink, ding, jingle, screech, slap, thud, thump, etc.
  4. Words Related to Air – Because air doesn’t really make a sound unless it blows through something, these words describe the sounds of air blowing through things or of things rushing through the air. ‘Whisper’ is on this list and not the voice list because we do not use our voices to whisper. We only use the air from our lungs and the position of our teeth, lips and tongues to form audible words: flutter, fisst, fwoosh, gasp, swish, swoosh, whiff, whoosh, whizz, whip, whisper, etc.
  5. Animal Sounds – If you’ve spent significant amounts of time with people from other countries, you know that animals speak different languages too. Depending on where a chicken is from, for example, she might cluck-cluck, bok-bok, tok-tok, kot-kot or cotcotcodet. In the United States, however, animals speak English: arf, baa, bark, bray, buzz, cheep, chirp, chortle, cluck, cock-a-doodle-doo, cuckoo, hiss, meow, moo, neigh, oink, purr, quack, ribbit, tweet, warble, etc.
  6. Miscellaneous Examples – Onomatopoeia can also be found in literature, songs and advertisements as well. Consider the following examples of onomatopoeia:
  • “Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong. The little train rumbled over the tracks.”(“Watty Piper” [Arnold Munk], The Little Engine That Could)
  • “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” (slogan of Alka Seltzer, U.S.)
  • “Onomatopoeia every time I see ya

My senses tell me hubba And I just can't disagree. I get a feeling in my heart that I can't describe. . .

  • It’s sort of whack, whir, wheeze, whine

Sputter, splat, squirt, scrape Clink, clank, clunk, clatter Crash, bang, beep, buzz Ring, rip, roar, retch Twang, toot, tinkle, thud Pop, plop, plunk, pow Snort, snuck, sniff, smack Screech, splash, squish, squeak Jingle, rattle, squeal, boing Honk, hoot, hack, belch.” (Todd Rundgren, “Onomatopoeia”)

An onomatopoeia poem by Lee Emmett of Australia also illustrates lots of onomatopoeia related to water: water plops into pond splish-splash downhill warbling magpies in tree trilling, melodic thrill whoosh, passing breeze flags flutter and flap frog croaks, bird whistles babbling bubbles from tap

In the end of the article it should be mentioned that, animal calls and sounds of insects are evoked onomatopoeically in all languages. For example, cock-a-doodle-do! is conventionally the English representation for the crowing of a cock. Interestingly, the Ukrainians and the French represent this imitation as кукуріку and cocorico correspondingly, which is significantly different from the English variant, although logic tells us that the roster’s cry is the same across the world. It means that onomatopoeia is not an exact reproduction of natural sounds but a subjective phenomenon.


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.


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