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Essay

What's that sound?

By David Yenches

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When we try to describe sounds in English, we use onomatopoeia (ah-no-ma-to-PEE-ah). It's a big word for a simple concept that means "the word sounds like the sound." Onomatopoeia is something you pick up as a child. I learned a lot during my boyhood summers in Vermont.

I spent two months every year at our summer house there, about five kilometers from the nearest small town. It was isolated and there was a lot of wildlife. It was about 50 km from the Canadian border.

In the morning, when I woke up I could hear the buzzing of the bumblebees in the clover on the lawn and the chirping of birds in nearby trees. I would run outside and let the door close quickly by itself and my mother would say, "Don't slam the screen door!" My father would usually be working on something, often banging on nails with a hammer to make a small schoolhouse or other wooden toy for my sister and me. Sometimes I heard clanging as he fixed the metal drainpipe that collected rainwater.

Sometimes it got cold, even in summer, and we could hear thunderstorms booming from afar or — if they got close — suddenly cracking after lightning lit up the room. We used to count 1, 2, 3… to see how far away the storm was. We were used to the warm weather of Miami Beach, so were happy our summer house in Vermont had a fireplace. It was nice when it got cold to hear the crackling of wood burning on the fire.

Because we lived on a single-lane dirt road far from town, we didn't have to worry about the whoosh of fast cars passing by our house — no one could drive fast on that dirt road. On our weekly trips to the nearest big town, we drove along the highway next to a brook and could hear the splashing of the fast water over the stones in the riverbed. We would catch trout from the brook, which would sizzle in the frying pan, making my mouth water. After eating several small fish for breakfast, I would quietly burp after excusing myself from the table.

We didn't have too many visitors there, and we didn't have a doorbell ringing ding-dong when people came to visit — just the knock-knock of their knuckles on our door. Sometimes visitors would just sound their car or truck horn when they arrived. Honk-honk.

Near Labor Day at the end of August, when it was time to return to school and Florida, my parents would pack for the trip, and the clink of glasses and vases being put away could be heard in the house. Back for another 10 months in Miami Beach. Yuck!

何の音?

何かの音を言葉で表現するときには「オノマトペ」を使う。筆者が子どもの頃、毎年夏休みに滞在していた別荘では、さまざまな音が聞こえてきた。こうした音は英語でどうやって表すのだろう?

The Japan Times ST: February 3, 2017

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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2017年9月22日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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