Okay, so onomatopoeias may not actually be “Önómátopæiás” in Icelandic, but trying to spell the word in one go feels like typing out a foreign language. Actually, I haven’t found the word for onomatopoeia in Icelandic, but I have found onomatopoeias. The other day in my reading of the book Englar Alheimsins (Angels of the Universe) I discovered the word “voff” in relation to a dog, which sounds a lot like “woof” and is literally the word for a dog bark. I decided to do some research and quiz a few Icelandic friends to find whether “voff voff” was their interpretation of a dog, and whether I could find more interesting sound interpretations.
I think it’s interesting that we’ve established words like “chirp chirp,” “ring ring,” and “moooo” as correct, when they’re just interpretations of a natural sound that was never influenced by an alphabet. Here to blow your mind are some new perspectives on sheep pleas and cat meows-
We’ll start with our animals. In Iceland, there really aren’t many animals to go around. You have your sheep, your horses, your cats, your dogs, and, uh, your roosters? Icelanders have derived a word for the sound a rooster makes, which actually seems a little more accurate than “cock a doodle doo!” Its “gaggalagó,” or some variation of such. But that isn’t the only interesting one:
Cat meowing: “mjá mjá”
Dog barking: “voff voff”
Sheep bleating: “meeeeee”
Crow: “krunk krunk” (I find this one particularly funny).
Duck calling: “bra bra”
Chicken: “gabb gabb gabb”
Owl: “ú úúú ú úúú”
Bird singing: “tvít tvít”
But then you have your more artificial, industrialized sounds, like the noises of machines or maybe bodies creating sounds by doing specific things:
Clock: “tik tak” (sadly not where the “Tic Tac” came from).
Car horn: “bíb bíb”
Liquid being drunk: “glúgg glúgg”
Knocking on a door: “bank bank” but with the “a” sounded like “á” (pronounced “ow”).
Hushing someone: “suss”
Food being eaten: “kjams” or “nammi” (think of this like our english “nom nom”).
The only word I found remotely the same in discussion was “zzzzzzz” for a bee, which seems to be pretty general for most languages.
So next time you imitate animals in Iceland, make sure you speak to them in their own language!