December 9, 2010 - 3:33 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
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Short and highly speculative: through a spate of watching subtitled movies in various foreign languages (Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, among others), sitting in an audio stew of these various and often unrelated tongues has started to make me wonder about various human exclamations that we may or may not classify as words but seem to be universally understood and always seem to have the same meaning and emotional context. There may be thousands of variations across the globe for the noise a dog’s bark makes, which is always a pseudoword that attempts specifically to mimic a sound but does so filtered through the tones a given language possesses, but some non-words don’t seem to vary remotely as much.

Among this family of human universal vocabulary I’d put:

“Awwwww (lilting)” = “so cute/sweet!”

“Awwww… (down note)” = disappointment, sympathy

“Oh!” = surprise

“Oh?” = interest

“Oi!” = “hey, you!” or just “HEY!”

“WHOO!” = “I am very excited and probably also quite drunk!”

“nah (vowel used depending on tonal background)” = refusal/negation

“hah (as above)” = affirmation/approval

“AI!” = unpleasant surprise

“Aaaah” = pleased approval

Am I totally off base? Somewhat off base? Got any cultures where similar noises mean something totally different? I’m sure linguists have addressed this SOMEwhere…

No Responses to “Subverbal”

  1. SmartDogs Says:

    Not off base at all.

    In fact I have this incredibly / obnoxiously verbal brown dog who uses pretty much all of those exclamations in proper human context.

  2. Mike Says:

    How about DUDE:

  3. Mike Says:

    A different lesson in ‘DUDE’

  4. Mousie762 Says:

    I’m no linguist, but other animal species have sets of vocalizations that seem to be pretty universal across the species. Why should we lose ours because we developed language?

  5. Mousie762 Says:

    I heard once that several kinds of territorial birdsong when played very slowly sounded much like a dog barking.

  6. Justthisguy Says:

    I have had two cats who could each speak one word of English. My first kitteh, to which I am afraid I was a very bad human, would come up to me and say very distinctly, “Out!” Then he would go to the door and wait for me to open it. He also said “Out” when we were outside and he wanted to go in. Hey, that’s doing pretty well with a little walnut-sized cat brain!

    My current kitty who’s 15 going on 16, does a lot of sighing, and moaning, and groaning. He does try to say KittyKat when he wants my attention. I always call him by saying “Kitty Cat!” I think he thinks that’s my name, because that’s the mouth noise I make.

    The best he can do sounds like “K…K…!”

  7. Tommy Says:

    Labrat, You left out “AARGH! – Your wife is a big hippo/More boiling oil, please” :-D

  8. Rick C Says:

    Another take on dude: