Most languages in the world contain specific words to describe animal cries, deriving from the actual sounds, but in a more abstract form. Those words are called ‘onomatopoeia’, which in greek means ‘to make name’. You can recognize onomatopoetic words from their repetitive patterns. 

Japanese language especially contains a large number of onomatopoetic words, to the extent that such words are being used as verbs or adjectives even in advertising or official context. Since now we are amid the scorching summer heat, I researched about words in Japanese describing the cicada buzz. [source]


According to the above chart, cicadas (‘semi’ セミ in Japanese), sing in different patterns depending on their species. The oil-cicada (‘abura-semi’ アブラセミ) sounds similar to its Greek counterpart, singing a song called ‘jiijiri jiri jiri’. The Greek one sings ‘jijijijiji’. You can see the similarity, right? The Greek name of cicada received its name due to that specific sound, so its called ‘jijiki’  τζιτζίκι. How did the Japanese cicada get its name? Well, another species sounds like ‘miin minmiminmii’, so the name turned out to be ‘semi’. Other cicada sounds are shaa shaa or tsukutsukubooshi or chii or kanakana. For reference, the English name cicada is derived from a latin onomatopoeia, probably something similar to shikashika. Amazing, the cicadas can perform such a wide variety of songs!

*They still annoy me and wake me up every morning tho*.  I guess I should not complain so much. They are much preferred compared to the villainous crows, whose screeches sound like a baby being tortured and wake up in a nightmarish fear. That’s the perk of having a giant tree right next to your window!

If you are interested in cicadas, please read chapter 6 of the manga ‘Yotsubato’. Apart from being a good source of learning everyday Japanese, it’s extremely hilarious. 

PS. Do you know why the ‘Nyan cat’ is called ‘nyan’ ? Because, you guessed wright,  the sound of a cat in Japanese is nyan-nyan. In comparison, the sound of a dog is wan-wan, which sounds kinda cuter compared to woof-woof.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: