animal-easter-chick-chickenIn the United States, there is a traditional song about Old MacDonald who had a farm. It was designed to teach young children the onomatopoeias of various barnyard animals, from an “oink-oink” here to a “moo-moo” there. It also ends its chorus with the English vowels, “E-I-E-I-O.” 

Old MacDonald harkens back to a bygone era. Today, only 2% of Americans live on a farm or ranch, so most American children never grow up hearing the real sounds of a pig or a cow. If the song might make little sense to young urban or suburban American children who have never had personal experience with barnyard animals, it would make even less sense to children in other countries speaking their own native languages, where vastly different onomatopoeias are used. There’s a huge table of various animal onomatopoeias maintained by Derek Abbott of the University of Adelaide, and Wikipedia also has a good, long article on the subject. Wikipedia even has an article on the history of the song and the different translations of Old MacDonald into various languages around the world, from Arabic to Portuguese.

The point is that we all wish to see works based in our own culture and language, and we want things to make sense to our own perspective. When translating your own projects into different languages, consider all idiomatic expressions, even down to the barnyard onomatopoeias.

For now, here’s a taste of a few ones (or twos, because they are doubled-up like in the song) common to Old MacDonald’s farm.

Old MacDonald’s Onomatopoeias
Animal English French Spanish German
Chicks  chick chick  piou piou
kikiriki kikiriki
 piep piep
Cow  moo moo
 meuh meuh
 muuu muuu
 mmuuh mmuuh
Pig  oink oink  groin groin
 oinc oinc
 grunz grunz
Duck  quack quack  coin coin  cua cua
 quak quak
Geese  honk honk  ca car ca car  cua cua
 gack gack
Horse  neigh neigh  hii hii
 ji ji
 wiehiehie wiehiehie