Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Siwi vocabulary for addressing animals

Probably every language has a certain number of forms used especially for addressing animals, especially domestic animals. In response to a recent query by Mark Dingemanse, I gathered together all the ones I happened to have recorded for Siwi - the list below is definitely not exhaustive, but should at least be suggestive. Note the sounds used - clicks do not usually form part of Siwi phonology!

To chicks:
didididididi: eat!

To cats:
ərrrr: come!
ǀǀǀǀǀ: come!
pss: move!

To dogs:
ʘʘʘʘʘʘʘ: follow me!

To goats:
əšš: go!
ħəww: go!
xətt: go!
kškškškškš: eat!

To donkeys:
ǁǁǁǁ: giddy-ap! (?)

The interesting question here is: to what extent are these arbitrary, reflecting an emergent cross-species convention just as most human lexemes do, versus to what extent do they reflect innate properties of animal perception and communication? How do they compare to those you've encountered, if any?


petre said...


My Aunt, who kept chickens. also said "dididididi" when calling them to feed, and I said "psssssst" to my cat when I wanted her to move alsewhere. Hmmm.....

petre said...

On a (slightly) related topic, do you have any thoughts on the anthropomorphizing of domestic animals. I don't know whether any of the languages you deal with have a grammatical distinction between human and non-human objects. Romanian certainly does, so it's correct to ask "Aţi văzut pixul meu?" (have you seen my pen?) but "Le-aţi văzut o pe prietena mea?" (word-by-word, have you seen her on my friend?), meaning "have you seen my friend?".

It IS a human/non-human distinction, NOT animate/inanimate, but that didn't stop me, when my cat got lost, from running around asking everybody: "Le-aţi văzut o pe pisica mea?" I had a big argument with my teacher about it, who maintained that "Aţi văzut pisica mea?" is more correct grammatically. But of course my cat had a name, and she was forced to admit that "Le-aţi văzut o pe Benny?" is better than "Aţi văzut Benny?"

My friend Benny is long gone to cattily heaven, but I remain interested by how other languages accommodate our relationship with domestic animals.

Guillaume Jacques said...

In the following article:
I present a list of calling/chasing sounds in Japhug (p284); these calls contain sounds not otherwised used in the language, like clicks (asin Siwi and French), glottal stop and breathy voice.

PhoeniX said...

Some fun parallel's in Dutch too:

To cats:
ǀǀǀǀǀ 'come!'
pss! 'go away!'
but repeated: pssspsspsspss 'come!'

To horses (but slightly broader as well I think):
ǁǁ: giddy-ap!

People more familiar with horses I think have a borader range of clicks doing different things, but I only know the lateral one.

David Marjanović said...


[pʊtpʊtpʊt], [pʊːːːːtpʊtpʊtpʊtpʊt] "come and eat" – I have no idea where this is actually used, but it's widely known.

[ˈhiːləˈhiːləˈhiːlə] "come (and eat?)" – strictly Swabian. I know about this because I once read about the etymology of Heile, heile, Gänschen, the beginning of a somewhat more widely known song.

Fooooools! Talking to cats is futile.
...OK, some people try anyway: [miːtsmiːts] "come". Has led to the creation of Mieze as a synonym for "cat".

Only actual words are used, plus whistling for "come". However, one word, Platz, has a special meaning: otherwise it's "place", addressed to a dog it's "lie down".

[ǁ ˈǁ] "go"
[ˈhya] "run"
/brːː/ "stop"

petre said...

"Pssst!" or similar seems to be widespread for telling cats to go away. We're probably actually "speaking cat" in this instance, as it's quite similar to the noise they make themselves to express the same thing. Thanks for the etymo on "Mieze", I didn't know that.

I disagree with David about communicating with cats: my cat responded to her name, and certainly understood the word "No!", though she would "argue with me" at length about whatever I was forbidding her. She was half-Persian, and her vet told me they are typically more communicative with humans than your common-or-garden European moggy.

I've never kept a dog, but I'm given to understand that many French dog-owners use English commands with their pets (sit, stay, etc), the idea being, if I understand it right, that the doggy brain processes consonants more readily than vowels. Sounds plausible.

There are whole books about horse vocabulary, even the dialectologists have got interested in it. I suppose it qualifies as endangered language now, but all that is well outside my field, I'm only fluent in Cat.

David Marjanović said...

"Pssst!" or similar

Not available in German, where it means "shush" and is addressed to humans.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks everyone for the information, and Guillaume for the article!

speedwell said...

"Psssst!" is a Cat word meaning, approximately, "stop what you're doing and get out of the way". I use it to train my cats, and my cats use it to train each other. My Maine Coon uses it quite a lot in conjunction with something that sounds like "Haffssssssss" and means "fuck off, you're annoying me". He actually is using it as a word, and as "bad language"; it is not like a growl or cry or yowl or preface to a scratch or bite, it's just him literally expressing his annoyance and ill-temper with me or the vet or a new cat.