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List of ideophones by language

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List of ideophones by language

This article is about ideophones in languages other than English.


  • ani-ani — walk, go for a walk
  • au-au — bark of a small dog
  • bar-bar — sound of bubbling water; rhythmic falling of a light body.
  • bilo-biloka — women's fight (tearing hair out)
  • biri-biri — call for ducks.
  • bix-bixean — throwing the ball to one another.
  • briu-brau — walk very fast.
  • dapa — have an idea suddenly.
  • drasta-drasta — count or pay by giving the money coin by coin.
  • dzast — throw something and put it into an opening or a corner
  • dziko — the sound of hitting somebody in the chest.
  • et-et-et — exclamation used when somebody is in a difficult situation or to attract attention.
  • fil-fil-fil — fall down in circles and slowly.
  • firiri — rotative motion of an object thrown in the air.
  • furra — call for hens.
  • garamanazal — mature woman ready to marry the first one to appear.
  • gilin-gilin — sound of a cowbell.
  • glaska-glaska — sound of cutting hair.
  • hikili-mikili-klik — drink up in a gulp
  • irra — call for pigeons.
  • irri-marra — throw money in christening ceremonies
  • irrintzi — whoop of joy typical of Basque shepherds when they are in the mountains, and of Basque people in general
  • ixo — shhh, hush.
  • kala-kala — rhythmical noise.
  • kank — sound of bouncing ball in Jai-Alai
  • kinkinka — jumping or rolling on the ends of a wooden log that rolls down the hill.
  • kirri-marro — articulating R sound wrongly.
  • kinkirrinkachampagne
  • klax-klax — scissors' sound
  • krik — drink buzz; if said to somebody, it's an invitation to do so, if the other person accepts, this one must say krak.
  • kuse-kuse — that precise moment
  • lirin-laran — singing softly to oneself.
  • makaka-orro — roar of oxen.
  • mamu — ghost, boogeyman.
  • meleka-meleka — eat without appetite
  • miz-miz — call for cats.
  • ñiski-ñaska — chewing
  • part — thrown an object at a short distance
  • pinpilinpauxa — butterfly
  • piri-para — continuous and hectic succession of things
  • plaust — sound of a heavy object falling
  • purrust — liquid spill
  • putin — kick of a harassed horse
  • sapa-sapa — transparent.
  • sino-mino — ceremonious
  • siztun-saztun — sew clumsily
  • sorki-morki — sew clumsily; a rough patch.
  • tak — sound of not very audible noises (heartbeat, pocket watch...); touch, tap.
  • talapats — swish, sound of a liquid moving inside a pitcher
  • talast-talast — water shaking in a container
  • tal-tal — walk from one place to another
  • tanka-tanka — coin by coin; step by step; drop by drop; rhythmical noise.
  • tarabala — sound of a person falling down into the floor
  • tarrat — sound of clothing ripping
  • taska-taska — cry profusely
  • tati — offering but not giving
  • taunk — hammering sound
  • ter-ter-ter — in a straight line
  • tiki-taka — little by little, step by step
  • tipi-tapa — pitter-patter
  • trata — clumsy movement of the spinning top
  • trikitixa — dance and music from the Basque Country
  • truskul — man with a malformation who walks clumsily, running into people
  • ttok-ttok-ttok — small person looking around for something
  • txikili-txakala — walk slowly but with a firm step
  • txin-txin — clinking of coins
  • txotx — expression used in sagardotegis when a barrel is to be opened
  • tzir-tzil — loose thread; unimportant thing or person
  • xaha-xaha — get undressed and wash the clothes
  • xirro-marro — shepherd's game with six pebbles
  • xiu-xiu — sound of squirrels
  • zaldiko-maldiko — ride, merry-go-round, carousel
  • zarrantzantzan — cling-clang, metal things dragged
  • zar-zar — heavy rain
  • zikirri-bakarra — fun-loving, busybody and clumsy person
  • zinpiti-zanpata — fall down suddenly
  • zipirt-zapart — throw punches left, right and centre
  • ziri-miri — drizzle
  • zirkin-zarkin — walk from one place to another
  • zirla-zarla — shoe's noise when walking clumsily
  • zirritaka — sound of red-hot-metal in contact with water
  • zist — escape, disappear suddenly
  • zurrumurru — rumour; whisper


Romanizations given in Jyutping)

  • (laa4) (laa2) (seng1) — quickly (as in (laa4) (laa2) (seng1) (zou6), literally meaning "la la sound do" but actually meaning "do [it] quickly")


  • gbadzaa — flat, spreading out over a wide area


  • Various expressive loans, e.g. tytinä< Russian stúden "aspic", but also symbolizes "wobbliness"
  • Onomatopoetic frequentative and momentane verbs, e.g. momentane-frequentative lätsähdellä "to splat over a larger area, suddenly and repeatedly", from onomatopoeia läts "splat".


  • Chamak chamak — sparkles or glitter


  • kipp-kopp — the sound of knocking of fingers
  • csipp-csepp — the sound of rain drops
  • sitty-sutty — a hurry (derived from the ideophone for the old-fashioned dresses' noise when one quickly moves)
  • tik-tak — a heartbeat; the sound of an analogue watch


The Japanese language has hundreds if not thousands of such constructions. The constructions are quite metrical 2-2, or 3-3, where mora plays a role in the symmetry. The second item of the reduplication may become voiced if phonological conditions allow, rendaku. These original or native expressions are used extensively in daily conversations as well as in the written language.

  • ドキドキ doki doki — heartbeat -> excitement
  • キラキラ kira kira — glitter
  • シーン shiin — silence
  • ニコニコ niko niko — smile


  • 두근두근 dugeun dugeun — heartbeat -> excitement
  • 오손도손 oson doson — people being warm and friendly to each other
  • 초롱초롱 chorong chorong — the way eyes sparkle, the way stars/candles shine, minds being alert
  • 반짝반짝 banjjak banjjak — bright, shiny, or twinkle.

Modern Hebrew

  • Shm-reduplication: The construction "X, shm-X" was transferred from Yiddish into Modern Hebrew as a productive derogatory prefix resulting in an echoic expressive, as in David Ben-Gurion's famous dismissal of the United Nations (UN), um shmum (UN Shm-UN) during a March 29, 1955 government meeting. "When an Israeli speaker would like to express his impatience with or disdain for philosophy, s/he can say filosófya-shmilosófya.[1]


  • dil dil — sound of several people walking
  • k'az k'az — sound of shearing sheep


Formal Portuguese language makes little use of reduplication. Most expressions are considered casual and may be used among friends and family. It is not expected to find them in any form of media register written in ink, as they are deemed childish or rude, except for few exceptions as 'tim-tim' cheers.

Objects and uses derived thereof
  • catraca (f.) — turnstile (formal; originally an onomatopoeia)
  • bumbum (m.) — a person's buttocks (most polite casual form; traseiro is too formal, nádegas too euphemistic, bunda potentially rude)
  • popô (m.) — a person's buttocks (more infantile form)
  • fonfom (m.) — a person's buttocks (more infantile form; also onomatopoeia for the "honk" of a car's horn)
  • cotoco (m.)[2] — someone of short stature or a child (endearingly, very seldom lightly mocking); a miniature animal
  • mamá (m.) (Brazil) — a nipple or breast, generally human; something from which one can suckle a nutritional liquid. (From mamar, "to suckle".)
  • papá (m.) (Brazil) — food; as the colloquial Portuguese verb papar, the act of eating solid or creamy food
  • bubu (m.) (Brazil, infantile) — bruise; sensation of pain or hurting; wound
  • popó (m.) (infantile) — car
  • cocô (m.) — feces
  • xixi (m.) — urine
  • inhaca (f.) — obnoxious bodily or bodily fluid odor or halitosis, generally human; obnoxious taste not particularly bitter or sour (from Tupí yakwa, "fragrant")
Personal adjectives
  • cricri (epicene) — annoying and/or squeamish person
  • lelé [da cuca] (epicene) — crazy
  • tam-tam (epicene) — lunatic
Simple actions
  • tim-tim (m.) — cheers
  • nhenhenhém (m.) — to be bratty-like insolent; grumbling; moaning (from Tupí nhe’eng, "to speak")
  • zigue-zague (m.) — moving on broken lines
  • lero-lero (m.) — runaround; idle talk; chit chat
  • blim-blim or plim-plim (m.) — glitter; turn on of a screen of electronic objects
  • plim-plom (m.) — the sound of rain drops
  • tititi (m.) — idle talk; futility; chit chat; futile gossiping
  • tóim (m.), also tóim-óim-óim (m.) if a stronger form — something floppy or silky turning taut, rigid or curly, also an onomatopoeia for a spring.[3]
  • créu (m.) — a bite; an event that catches one off-guard; an act of sexual penetration; others based on the last ones (e.g. financial loss,[4] retribution-tasting victory[5][6])
Actions or concepts that involve repetition
  • chupe-chupe (m.) — act of suckling; a juicy food (e.g. a fruit, a sacolé) from which one does suckle a liquid. (From chupar, "to suck, to suckle".)
  • corre-corre (m.) — running around doing things, generally in a hurry. (From correr, "to run".)
  • trepa-trepa (m.) — jungle gym; act of sex (Brazil, impolite). (From trepar, "to climb, to mount".)
  • pula-pula (m.) — inflatable castle; pogo stick; various species of bird (From pular, "to jump".)

It is not common to refer to interjections as nouns, but when this takes place, they are masculine ones by standard.

  • ih! (short vowel, [ˈʔi˥(ʔ)]) — common for related mental states like a finding, a surprise, a shock or a jolt
  • ih (lengthened, [ˈi͡ɪ̝ːː↘]) — implies an array of mental states, including annoyance (e.g. with a conversation's subject), discord, estrangement (often mockingly, especially among males), suspicion, doubt or mistrust
  • xi ([ˈʃʲiːː↘]) or vixi ([viˈʃʲiːː↘]) — "pish!", "jeez" or "gee" i.e. for something, someone or some situation failing or going sour
  • vuash! — for an unusually fast-moving object; a person or an animal running at near its greatest effort


  • zig-zag — moving on broken lines


  • шмыг (shmyg) — to move swiftly somewhere


  • "Kwa Kwa" — sound of someone hitting something


Tamil has a large number of ideophones that act as adverbs or adjectives.[7]

  • பட பட (pada pada) — sound of heartbeat when excited/afraid. Also, speaking fast or rapidly. Also, sound of serial firecrackers.
  • திரு திரு (thiru thiru) — describes the caught red-handed look.
  • கொழு கொழு (kozhu kozhu) — plump.
  • புசு புசு (buzu buzu) — furry to touch.
  • சொற சொற (sora sora) — rough/grainy to touch; sandpaper-ish.
  • சொத சொத (chodha chodha) — squishy. Refers to the sound made by boots when walking in a marsh or on rain-soaked ground.
  • பள பள (pala pala) — shiny.
  • வழ வழ (vazha vazha) — slippery.
  • மொழு மொழு (mozhu mozhu) — smooth to touch (as in surface, bald head, etc.).
  • கொழ கொழ (kozha kozha) — gooey, slimy.
  • கொள கொள (kola kola) — loose, liquid-like, not solid.
  • லொட லொட (loda loda) — describes sound of pebble rattling in a metal container. Used to describe people who can't shut up.
  • துரு துரு (thuru thuru) — eager and active; similar to bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
  • மச மச (masa masa) — sluggish/phlegmatic.
  • கிலுகிலு (kilu kilu) the sound made by a ratte or an ankle bracelet.
  • கிலுகிலுகிலுப்பை (kilukiluppai) — noun — baby's rattle, that makes a 'kilu kilu' sound.
  • குவா குவா (kuvaa kuvaa) — sound of a baby crying.
  • வெட வெட (veda veda) — shivering/trembling.
  • விறு விறு (viru viru) — exciting/brisk. As in 'an exciting story', or as in 'walking briskly', or to describe spicy food.♙


  • pırıl pırıl/parıl parıl — shiny, sparkling
  • paldır küldür — hurriedly, clumsily
  • yapış yapış — sticky


  • loảng xoảng — sound of glass breaking to pieces or metallic objects falling to the ground
  • hớt hơ hớt hải (also hớt ha hớt hải) — hard gasps -> in extreme hurry, in panic, panic-stricken
  • lục đục — the sound of hard, blunt (and likely wooden) objects hitting against each other -> disagreements and conflicts inside a group or an organization


  • fẹrẹgẹdẹ — big and wide
  • róbótó — little and round (object)
  • gbẹ̀m$ — round and big
  • gbàyàù — open and loose

See also

List of placeholder names by language


  • Ameka, Felix Kofi (2001) ‘Ideophones and the adjective class in Ewe’. In Voeltz & Kilian-Hatz 2001, 25-48.
  • Awoyale, Yiowola (1989) ‘Reduplication and the status of ideophones in Yoruba. Journal of West African Languages 19, 1, 15-34. Online article
  • Bodomo, Adams. A corpus of Cantonese Ideophones. Online publication (PDF).
  • Chevillard, Jean-Luc. ‘Ideophones in Tamil: Historical observations on the morphology of X-eṉal expressives’, in Kolam 9&10, 2004 Online article (PDF and HTML).
  • Childs, G. Tucker (1994) ‘African Ideophones’. Hinton et al. (eds.) Sound Symbolism, 178-204. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Doke, C.M. (1935) Bantu linguistic terminology. London: Longmans, Green.
  • Gasser, Michael, Nitya Sethuraman, and Stephen Hockema. 2010. Iconicity in expressives: An empirical investigation. In Experimental and Empirical Methods, ed. Sally Rice and John Newman, 163–180. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.
  • Güldemann, Tom. 2008. Quotative Indexes in African languages: a synchronic and diachronic survey. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Imai, Mutsumi, Sotaro Kita, Miho Nagumo, and Hiroyuki Okada. 2008. “Sound symbolism facilitates early verb learning.” Cognition 109 (1): 54–65. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2008.07.015.
  • Kilian-Hatz (2001) ‘Universality and diversity’. In Voeltz & Kilian-Hatz 2001, 155-164.
  • Kock, I. (1985) ‘The speech act theory: A preliminary investigation’. In South African Journal of African Languages, 5, 49-53.
  • Nuckolls, Janis B. 1996. Sounds Like Life: Sound-Symbolic Grammar, Performance, and Cognition in Pastaza Quechua. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Nuckolls, Janis B. 2004. To be or to be not ideophonically impoverished. In SALSA XI: Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Symposium about Language and Society, ed. Wai Fong Chiang, Elaine Chun, Laura Mahalingappa, and Siri Mehus, 131–142. Austin: University of Texas.
  • Voeltz, F. K. Erhard, and Christa Kilian-Hatz, eds. 2001. Ideophones. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


  1. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2009), Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns. In Journal of Language Contact, Varia 2: 40–67, p. 49, where he also refers to Haig (2001) and Lewis (1967).
  2. ^ Always as a masculine word. For example, um cotoco de mulher, "a little bit of a woman".
  3. ^ An example of non-onomatopoeic use would be when iron-straightening of hair loses its effect due to moisture, and the hair turns instantly back to curly as a result. Use of this comparison – implied by mention of these terms, as well –, nevertheless, might be regarded as racist when referring to the hair of a person of African descent, as are the terms pixaim, pico, picumã or a comparison to steel wool, unless the person(s) of African descent in the room indicated they are okay by their use or go by them themselves.
  4. ^ The average Brazilian sings Dança do Créu – Maurício Ricardo – (Portuguese)
  5. ^ After 5 years, Figueirense team reciprocates provocation and dances the créu funk – (Portuguese)
  6. ^ Marquinhos reciprocates "dance of the boxer shorts" with the créu, dedicating the won match to the fans – Globo Esporte (Portuguese)
  7. ^
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