Basic units in sound symbolism which lies
between phonemes and morphemes.
Linguists, in order to study onomatopoeia,
need not only know the phonemes, syntax,
and morphology of the language, but also
understand psychology, sensory cognition
Word form Affective
features Kinetic Sense
• Mimetics and onomatopoeic words
have strong bonds with specific
verbs or nouns. The lexical meaning
of these mimetics are provided by
• The English word ‘ramble’ can be
translated to: bura bura aruku
- while the verb ‘aruku’ understates the
idea of a ramble (aruku mean to ‘walk’) the
mimetic term ‘bura bura’ when placed
before aruku makes the word effective
and helps us understand the concept.
Bura bura-- affecto imagistic
Aruku-- analytic dimension
• Sound symbolism is productive. Many
new Japanese onomatopoeic words
are created by sound symbolisms
such as new trends and expressions,
products in the market etc.
Just to clear a few
• Mimetics and Onomatopoeia DO NOT
refer to the same type of sound.
• Onomatopoeia is the representation of
sound (the barking of a dog, the sound of
• Mimetics refer to either a psychological
state, or an external environment.
• Onomatopoeia limited as an adverb
• Mimetics can function as an adj, verb
etc. (when attached with the pseudo verb
‘suru’ and the adj. affix ‘na)
• Doa wo gangan tataku
”Knock on the door hard.”
• Atama ga gangan itamu
My head is throbbing painfully.
Japanese don’t have a wide variety of
verbs to accommodate different
• Noro-noro; yota-yota; tobo-tobo
are all mimetic varietions
corresponding to the verb ‘aruku’ (to
• These words can be seen as the
counterparts for the English words
to walk, to skip, to straddle etc.
Other Special Features
• All Onomatopoeic and mimetic sounds
are formed in a C-V-C-V pattern.
• Sequential Voicing, (Rendaku) is a
rare occurrence in mimetics and
• Most of the onompatopeic sounds are
written in Katakana
• The use of the dakuten (ten-ten) or the
maru Can harden or soften the sound or
meaning of a phrase
• (zuke zuke- means to speak one’s mind in
a more direct way than tsuke tsuke)
• ( e.g. gun, gûn, gu-ûn, gun to and
gutto, all describe with slightly
different nuances, the use of effort
or marked change)
• g,z,d and b are ‘muddy’ sounds
suggesting big, heavy, or dirty
• (like gasshito, -strongly built and
botteri, large or fat)
• k,s,t, and h are ‘clean’ sounds
suggesting sharp, light, small and
• (hakkiri, -clearly, soyo-soyo-,
• H is a dignified sound
• (hou, hokekyo- the call of a
• P suggests something undignified
• (pota pota-, to plop, and paku paku -to
• K and T are hard (kochi kochi –hard, tsun-
• S suggests a feeling of friction, of sliding
or slipping along (sarari-, slide)
• N suggests a feeling of stickiness (neba
neba - sticky)
• H suggests lightness, b heaviness, p
something in between (hara hara -water
streams soundlessly, bara bara -rain down
and para para -sprinkle lightly)
• As for vowels:
• /i/- straightness, high pitch
(piyo-piyo cheep cheep (sound of a small
• /u/- heat, tiredness, negativity
(muka-muka nauseous, very angry)
• /o/- small area, modesty
• (dosshiri dignified, impressive)
• /a/- large area, conspicuousness
(chara-chara dress up too much,
• /e/- vulgarity
• (dere deremess around, flirt
heavily, be turned to putty by
• (neto, neto warm, sticky and wet)
• When a word is repeated to form a
phrase, it suggests repetition,
continuation or things happening one
• Streets in Japan, especially in Tokyo
are filled with the sounds of traffic,
construction work and booming music,
but after the hubbub finally dies
down in the evening, stray cats,
peoples’ dogs, crows…
• Wan wan woof woof, bowow
…Children often refer to dogs as Wan-chan
• Shiranai hito ga niwa ni hairu tabi ni inu ga
wan wan to hageshiku hoemashita.
• Whenever a stranger entered the garden,
the dog barked furiuously.
• Nyaa Nyaa meow
• Ofuro ni ochita neko wa kawaisoo ni
nyaa nyaa naite imashita.
• The cat had fallen in the bath tub
and was crying pitifully.
• Jii jii miin miin cicada’s chirp
…Summer days are signalized by the onset of the
heavy droning of the sound of cicadas as often
depicted in anime and cartoons.
• Ichinichijuu semi ga jii jii miin miin to naite imasu
• All day long the cicadas chirrup in the trees.
• In Japanese style houses, there are
no air cons and central heating
systems so it could become very
damp after a rainy stretch that
people used to worry about finding
mushrooms growing and springing up
in their shoes.
• Gusho gusho - soaking/ sopping wet
• Niwaka ame ni atte, kasa ga nakatta no de,
kaisha ni gusho guhso ni nurete
• The rain suddenly fell and because I didn’t
have an umbrella with me, I arrived at the
office sopping wet.
• Zaa zaa Sound of a downpour, sound of a lot
of water flowing (e.g. a waterfall)
… This phrase could also be translated to the English
idiom ‘raining cats and dogs’
• Hanami ni iku yakusoku o shita ji wa, ainiku asa
kara ban made ame ga zaa zaa furimashita.
• Unfrotunately, on the day we had agreed to go
cherry blossom viewing, it rained cats and dogs
from morning to evening.
• Jime jime damp; dark gloomy,
....In the heart of the rainy season, no
other word seems to describe the
atmosphere as well, especially since
jime jime can also mean gloomy and
• Maitoshi rokugatsu ni hairu to Nihon no
jime jime shita kisetsu ga hajimaru node
watashi wa nigetaku narimasu
• Every year, when June comes around, I
know Japan’s rainy season is about to begin
and I start wanting to escape
• Kanojo wa itsumo kurai kime jime shita
hyoujou o shite iru
• She always has a dark melancholic look
• Zoku zoku- shiver due to the cold; shiver
with excitement or pleasure, shiver in fear,
things happening one after another
…Japanese have traditionally associated fear with
feeling cold so much so that horror f films used
to be shown in the summer to induce a cold
shiver in the audience. Ghost stories are also
told for the same reason.
• Kibishii samusa no tame karada zenta ga zoku
• In the fierce cold, a chill crept all over my
• Kira kira - twinkle, glitter shine
• Tanbo o oou yozora wa kira kira to
kagayaku hoshi de ippai deshita
• The night sky over the paddy fields
was full of brightly twinkling stars
• Foreigners have always had ambivalent
feelings when it comes to food and it is so
unlikely what we are accustomed to at
home. Nevertheless, we still think the
Japanese wants us to like their food.
• Guu Guu- stomach rumbles, gurgle
• Asagohan o taberu jikan ga nakatta node
juuivhiji goro kara hara guuguu
• I didn’t have time to eat breakfast so
from 11 o’clock, my stomach started
• Peko-peko Ravenously hungry
• Okaasan! Onaka peko peko yo!
• Mom! I’m starving!
• There are always a few leftovers
and misfits in any carefully worked
out scheme—so here are some
phrases that we couldn’t bear leave
out, but couldn’t put anywhere else.
• Zuki zuki heartache, throbbing
• Sono mukashi no koibito o omidasu
tabi nu zuki zuki to iu kokoro no uzuki
• Whenever I think of an old flame, I
remember my heartache.
• Chu kiss
• Dare mo mite inai toki ni kawaii
kanojo ga boku ni chutto shite kureta
• While no one was looking, the cute
girl gave me a kiss on the cheek
• beta beta A couple falling all over
each other, pasted, sticky
• Hitomae de beta beta shite iru kappuru
wa chotto hatameiwaku da.
• Young couples falling all over each other
in public are a little annoying
• Hera hera laugh embarrassedly
• kare wa uso ga wakatta toki, hera hera to
• When his lie was discovered, he laughed
• Pera pera fluency in speaking
• Ano hito wa Nihonggo gap era pera da ne.
• That guy’s Japanese is fluent.
• English school advertisement:
• Kotoshi hera hera, Rainen pera pera!
• Waku waku Excitedly, anxiously
• Kaigai yokou no keikau o tatenagara
mune ga waku waku shita
• I felt excited while I was planning my
• Niko niko smile warmly, grin, laugh
• Minnasan wa genki ni niko niko to
• Everyone is in good spirits and smiling
• Millington, Suan
Nihongo Pera Pera!/ Susan Milington.
Tokyo: Charles e. Tuttle Company, C,1993
Toshihiko Amemiya and Satohime
Mizutani/Proceedings of the First Intl’
Workshop on Kansai. Html file.(PDF)