By Iain Thomas - - - The dog goes woof. The cat goes meow. The cow goes moo. The sheep goes baa. E-I-E-I-O. It's a simple lesson we all learned in our early childhood. We can all agree on a set group of sounds for all the barnyard animals.
Then, beyond that, we can agree that pulling a piece of paper in opposite directions will make a ripping sound. Snoring is represented as a series of Z's. The train goes choo-choo and a bomb goes boom. It's pretty self explanatory.
But what sound does a giant ball make when it rolls?
While talking in a class about zorbing (a sport in which people in giant plastic balls roll down grassy hills), I found the answer to that question. Prompted to describe the sport, my student proceeded to wheel her hands about in the air and utter a gravelly refrain of "goro goro goro goro." Needless to say, I was confused.
Not long after, I stumbled upon a similar word. For lack of the adjective "bumpy" in describing a raspberry's texture, a student called it "butsu butsu." The same student would later relate the beating of a mattress as "pom pom" and describe bushy hair as "mojya mojya."
These words appear in daily conversation as well. A perplexed family in Tokyo Station circling an information pillar may remark "kuru kuru" as they go round and round. A soft and fluffy cake may be labeled as "fuwa fuwa." A crowded bus—"gochya gochya."
We can call these onomatopoeias, but they do much more than describe just sounds. With Japanese onomatopoeias, we can describe gradual (dan dan) or sudden (don don) processes, exasperation (yare yare), or even joyfulness (uki uki).Do these things really have sounds? Well… not in English apparently.