Photo by Louise Leppard via Flickr.
Now, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to explore the linguistics-Halloween interface once more…
So in English we often represent the sound a bird makes as “Tweet,” and the sound a dog makes as “Woof,” but these onomatopoeic forms are not universal. For example, in Greek a bird sounds like “Tsiou,” and in Korean a dog sounds like “Meong”!
This is not to say that speakers of different languages perceive these sounds differently (or that, say, Icelandic dogs have different voices); it’s that, in onomatopoeia, noises are represented using the sounds–and thus reflect the phonemic constraints and patterns–of the language itself. And different languages have different phonemic inventories (therefore, e.g., English speakers don’t have words starting with “ts,” so they are unlikely to say that birds go “Tsiou”).
So how does a terrified human scream sound? Usually in English we would write it out as “Aaaaaah!” or “Eek!” (I’m not including “Yikes!” because that one can be traced back to an actual word.)
Screams are usually vowel-heavy. The reason for this, articulation-wise, is because the formation of vowels mimics the shape of the mouth when petrified in fear. Seriously, make a face like this…
…and then make a noise, and it’ll sound something like “Aaaaaah!” (rather than, for example, “Shlempick!”).
But just like animal sounds, scream sounds are represented differently by
different cultures and languages. So how do startled exclamatory noises get represented in foreign languages? Here are a few examples:
- In Finnish, a scream is “Kääk”
- In Nepali, “Bzzt”
- In Japanese, “Gyā”
- In Indonesian, “Huwah”
- In German, “Autsch”
Keep in mind that even facial expressions associated with fright may vary from culture to culture. But hey, terror happens. And whatever way it manifests vocally, it gets verbalized…by any phonemic means available.