petrusplancius (petrusplancius) wrote in linguaphiles,

The language of the Garden of Eden

I was reading this description of how Sir James Lancaster acquired sheep and cattle from indigenous people of South Africa during his voyage to the East Indies in 1601-3 - he "made signes to them to bringe him downe sheepe and oxen; for he spake to them in the cattels language (which was never changed at the confusion of Babell), which was moath for oxen and kine, and baa for sheep; which language the people understood very well without any interpreter." This set me thinking. He would surely have imitated the noise that the animals make rather than used the conventional English representations of those sounds, now 'moo' and 'baa', since there is quite a gap between these represenations and the sounds themselves. And it then occurred to me that I do not know the equivalent expressions even in many languages that I know quite well. Dictionaries are not necessarily of much help; I looked up 'moo', for instance, in a Dutch dictionary, and it only gave the Dutch equivalent for the English verb 'to low', which is another matter entirely.

So may I ask, what do sheep and cows say in your language or other languages that are known to you? Or are there any other interesting animal sounds (e.g. cat sounds; 'faire ronron' for 'purr' in French is very nice)?

One interesting fact that I do know is that sheep said βη βη (sorry, can't do the accents on this computer) in ancient Greek [the first letter being the equivalent of a b and the second of a long e]; and this is useful in teaching beginners how to pronounce the relevant vowel (eta), since it is actually much closer to proper sheep sound than the corresponding vowel sound in 'baa'!

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