Describing Sound

As a writer, sometimes I am inspired by the smallest things. A few weeks ago, I was siting in church in our Cambodian service, listening to the sermon and the translation which followed each phrase. Alright, so maybe I wasn’t paying full attention, as you will discover by the following paragraphs, but hey, don’t we all find our minds wandering at times?

I love watching the translator work. He is brilliant at not only translating the message, but mimicking the speaker’s hand gestures as well. But, as I listened to him, I began to consider how I would describe the Cambodian language, Khmer, to someone who hadn’t heard it before. Here’s what I came up with:

The closest thing I can relate the sound of the Khmer language to is the strumming of an accoustic guitar. Many of their sounds come from way back in the mouth, like the thrum, thrum on the strings. Not in a melodious way, but more percussive in tone. Other sounds are more like a staccato-like plucking of the strings. They have that twang in them.

Knowing that I think like this, I wonder how other nationalities would describe the sound of the English language. I know I’ve heard other languages that sound like whining to me, or like someone with a bad throat.

I would love to hear your description of a language foreign to you, or even just a unique sound you would like to describe in a colourful way.

Published in: on 6th August, 2010 at 11:12 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. When I hear the Spanish language I think of auctioneers spouting off to bidders, a drama filled with passion. Words are delivered breathlessly, with heart. It is deep, intense, powerful, rich. The French language sounds lyrical, peaceful, smooth as the finest silk.

  2. When we lived in Thailand for a year our ears took in lots of strange and wonderful sounds. I remember listening to the numbers to 10, all one syllable. Strung together in any combination, to me they still sound like marbles falling into a tin box.

    See, sip, ha, hok, sahm, gao, jet…. beautiful 🙂


    • Wow. So many beautiful descriptions. I can almost hear them they way you both describe them. Thanks.

  3. The Bengali language, from a province in India, is soft and sweet. Like the soft murmuring of a stream as it flows over the stones raised from its bed.

    I have always loved Isa 55:12 “the trees of the field will clap their hands”. The wind in the trees does tend to sound like the applause of a great audience. It can also sound like the sigh of worship or the shout of a thousand voices lifted in praise to their Creator. The earthly equivalent of the heavenly choirs of angels.

    • Thanks Jacquie. Yes, I love that reminder of the trees clapping their hands. I like to think all of the sounds creation makes are praise to their Creator. Love your description of the Bengali language.

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