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Written by Traduality

Traduality helps organizations protect and get closer to its customers, employees, and partners in their native language.

April 8, 2020

Do onomatopoeias need translation?

Have you ever translated something that included onomatopoeias? Did you know that they are also translated even though they are just sounds? What many people don’t know is that there are onomatopoeias in all languages, so it’s normal that they are different from each other as languages have their own phonetic system.

Onomatopoeias are phonetic imitations of a natural sound or any other acoustic non-discursive act. Translators consider these words as phonetic transcriptions that they need to transfer to a target language. They are very common in comics or video game translations. If you’re interested in finding out more about this translation field, you can read some of the tips for video game translation.

Onomatopoeias can be a huge challenge for translators but… why? Just because of their complexity. Translators often struggle to find an “official” equivalent in the target language as sometimes it doesn’t exist and if it does, it may not be an usual term so the translator must think carefully how to change it so the reader and target audience can understand it. When we try to communicate using another language, we sometimes use our facial expressions, gestures, or onomatopoeias to “speak”.

The following article will show you some of the best-known onomatopoeias and some tips on how to translate them… Who said it’s not possible?


Interesting Facts

  1. English-Spanish translations are the most difficult ones because English uses verbs as onomatopoeias besides sounds. For example, the English language uses “tap, tap” for steps or “cough” for the action of coughing. So now, the translator faces the challenge of transmitting the same purpose in Spanish.
  2. Japanese uses many onomatopoeias for comics, anime, and mangas. These are the most difficult sounds to translate as they written in Katakana, one of the Japanese syllabaries used to represent sounds.
  3. Onomatopoeias are very common in comics and literature, so they need to have an official translation. If you want to find out the wonders behind translation and literature, take time to read our article so you get to know about literary translation.



These are the three best-known onomatopoeias for actions:

  • If you want to represent a honking with a sound, you can use “honk, honk” in English while in Spanish the sound “piii” represents it.
  • We also make sounds while eating, believe it or not. The English language uses “chomp“, French represents it with “miam“, and Spanish uses “yum“.
  • How does a kiss sound? Americans represent it with “mwah“, French people use “smack“, while Spanish people use “muak“.



These are the three most-represented onomatopoeias for sounds:

  • The bark of a dog is one of the onomatopoeias with more translations. It is “woof” in English, a classy “ouaf” in French, “bau” in Italian, and “guau” in Spanish.
  • The clucking of a rooster is represented differently depending on the language. For English we use “cock-a-doodle-do“, French people represent it with “cocorico“, and in Spanish, we use the famous onomatopoeia “kikiriki“.
  • The sounds of a cat are represented using “meow” in English, “miao” in Italian, and “miau” in Spanish.


If you’re interested in discovering more about the translation of onomatopoeias, you can visit our Facebook page: Traduality Language Solutions LATAM to see our creative infographics! So, would you like to translate onomatopoeias in comics or cartoons?

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