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Japanese Onomatopoeia-Fuafua

Learn some Japanese Onomatopeia オノマトペ

When I started studying Japanese, one rainy day, my teacher entered the classroom and said to all of us, "雨がぽつぽつと降り出した" (ame ga potsupotsu furidashimashita), which means "the rain has started to sprinkle." We laughed because we found the word "potsupotsu" cute, almost as if she were making it up. Apparently, this is actually a word describing the sound of rain. Later that day, she explained various Japanese words that describe different rain sounds and their meanings.

It's fascinating to me that Japanese has so many ways to express the intensity and sound of rain, as my language lacks these nuances. Here are some examples for your curiosity:

- ぽつぽつ (ポツポツ) [adverb] : Sprinkling. “Potsupotsu” describes raindrops falling little by little, like when it just starts to rain. It conveys the sound of raindrops hitting the ground or roof.

- ぱらぱら (パラパラ) [adverb]: Sprinkling or more like pattering. “Parapara” describes a sparse state of rain.

- しとしと (シトシト) [adverb]: Drizzling. “Shitoshito” refers to quiet rain, evoking an image of small, silent raindrops falling.

- ざあざあ (ザーザー) [adverb]: Pouring, raining heavily. “Zāzā” conveys the sound and intensity of heavy rain that can make you wet even with an umbrella.

Japanese is believed to have the second-largest number of onomatopoeic and mimetic words among the world's languages, counting over 2,000 such terms. Korean is considered to have the largest number of these words. On a daily basis, around 400 to 700 of these words are commonly used, describing a wide range of sensations from sounds and textures to smells and other senses of touch, sight and hearing.

For example, the word "fuwafuwa" describes the feeling of something soft. When I first heard it, I was walking in Kamakura with my husband. We saw a Samoyed, the happiest dog, who came over to us. We sat down to pet him, and his fur was incredibly soft. It felt like paradise, an indescribable joy and happiness. The owner of the dog and my husband described him as "fuwafuwa."

When I asked if that was a term specifically for dogs, they explained it simply means "soft," like a plush toy. I still remember that word, not just for its meaning, but for the feeling it evokes. The act of touching the dog left a lasting impression of "fuwafuwa" in my mind.

Other onomatopoeic words like "guruguru" (indicating rotation) and "pikapika" (meaning shining) are often heard in phrases like Pikachu's "Pika Pika Pikachu." These words use verbal sounds to describe non-sound elements such as objects, human gestures, and feelings. They express sensory impressions beyond hearing, incorporating visual and tactile sensations through verbal sounds. For example, "niko-niko warau" describes smiling happily, "niya-niya" meaning grinning, "furafura" conveys a feeling of floating but it also means dizzy, and "doki-doki" depicts heart beating fast like a love emotion.

While some might find these expressions unfamiliar, they are actually sound-symbolic words we use daily without much thought. The term "onomatopoeia" originates from the ancient Greek words "onoma" (name) and "poiein" (to make), which combined to form "onomatopoiia." In English, this became "onomatopoeia," and in French, it is "onomatopée." In Japan, it is often referred to as "オノマトペ".

Additionally, using onomatopoeia appropriately during presentations or speeches can leave a lasting impression on the audience. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was known as a "master of onomatopoeia." He would use sounds like "boom" and "bang" to captivate his audience and enhance their imagination, especially when he wanted to highlight something important or convey excellence.

In Japanese, onomatopoeia is also used to describe food taste and texture. For example, one of my favorites is "もちもち" (mochi-mochi), meaning chewy yet soft. Hearing this word makes me as happy as a child. Words like

"サクサク" (saku-saku, meaning crispy for example for fried chicken) or "とろとろ" (toro-toro, meaning melt-in-your-mouth mostly referring to cheese). These are used because it can make food sound more delicious.

For cleaning products, words like "ぴかぴか" (pika-pika, meaning shiny) and "ツルツル" (tsuru-tsuru, meaning smooth, especially for the skin) evoke a sense of cleanliness and effectiveness.

One reason for the abundance of onomatopoeia in Japanese is related to the way verbs are expressed. In Japanese, individual verbs often convey only the basic meaning of an action. To create more specific expressions, adverbs are added. For example, the verb "見る" (miru) in Japanese simply means "to see." In contrast, English has multiple verbs for "seeing," such as "see," "look," and "watch," allowing for more nuanced expressions using the verbs themselves.

So in Japanese for the verb "見る" (miru), one might say "じろじろ見る" (jirojiro miru, to stare), "ちらっと見る" (chiratto miru, to glance), or "じっくり見る" (jikkuri miru, to look carefully). These onomatopoeic expressions enhance the basic verb and provide the specific nuance needed.

This tendency to use onomatopoeia to supplement basic verb meanings likely contributed to the proliferation of onomatopoeic words in Japanese.

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#onomatopoeia#japanese language#sounds
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