Pain is universal. Its expression is not.

Why pain is expressed differently in different languages
Pain is universal. Its expression is not. 

By James Harbeck

Bang! "Ow!"

You probably have some idea of what just happened there. A collision or explosion of some kind, or perhaps a gunshot. Then someone voicing sharp pain, but probably not excruciating or fatal.

Now consider this: If we were speaking a language other than English, how would that sound?

The loud noise would be the same loud noise. But even if the noise was identical, the word used to represent the noise would not be the same everywhere.

We know what kind of noise "Bang!" represents: one with a sharp onset and some short reverb that often leaves a briefly lingering effect on the ears. It's made by a normal-sized thing, smaller or less hollow than "Boom!" but bigger and not as hard as "Ping!" You might expect similarity in representation from language to language, with differences due only to the sound systems of the different languages.

And that's generally what we get, although in many languages the standard word leans toward the "boom" side. Is it that bigger or hollower objects are generally involved in loud sounds, or just different cultural expectations? It varies.

In a few languages, it's at least nearly the same as in English — Dutch has pang and boem (pronounced "boom"), Danish has bang and bum (said "boom," as in other languages too), German has peng and bum, Italian has bang, bum, and pum, Spanish has bang and pum, Swedish has pang, bang, and bom, Vietnamese has pằng, and Mandarin has pēng (which sounds like English "pung"). Quite a few other languages have a "boom" word but no "bang" equivalent. In some languages, such as some from southern India, a "d" sound is used in place of the "b," but the rest is still a low or back vowel followed by a "m" or "ng" sound. 

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