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As a spin-off from this comment:

If a human exclaims something like "ouch!", I believe it's considered an interjection.

But if a pig exclaims "oink!", what is the part of speech?

And if a bell goes "bong!", what is the part of speech?

You could speak of "an oink" and "a bong" as nouns, but I mean in a context like

The man went "ouch!", the pig went "oink!" and the bell went "bong!"

Are interjections only for humans?

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Interesting question. For lack of a better term, I'd call these words interjections, and I found oink listed as such. –  Irene Feb 1 '12 at 11:31
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If it's from a non-human*, it's probably not a part of speech. (* Excluding talking animals and aliens and intelligent clouds of self-organised microorganisms.) –  Hugo Feb 1 '12 at 11:47
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Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/50412 –  TimLymington Feb 1 '12 at 11:56
    
they are nouns for sounds. (I just had to but the only reason i think that rhymes is that i say noun as nound.) –  Dan D. Feb 1 '12 at 12:05
    
Follow-up question from a colleague: what if a human exclaims "oink!" or "bong!"? :) –  Henrik N Feb 1 '12 at 14:54

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

According to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, "the general definition of interjection is that it is a category of words that do not combine with other words in integrated syntactic constructions, and have expressive rather than propositional meaning." It seems to me that oink and bong fit that definition. Onomatopoeia is not one of the parts of speech listed in CGEL or any other grammar I'm familiar with.

This is, of course, limited to actual words. Environmental sounds (i.e., those you hear directly from pigs and bells rather than human descriptions of pigs and bells) are not language, and cannot be assigned to any lexical category.

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I think that the "non-human" sounds described here are best termed as simply onomatopoeia. Sound effects, whether anthropomorphized into something the non-human thing "says" or not, are just sound effects; neither the pig nor the bell is "exclaiming" or "interjecting" except as the result of human attributes we ascribe to them.

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This is not really a problem, if one keeps in mind that only humans use language. It follows that:

  • if any thing makes noise, it's not speech sound.
  • if any person speaks or writes those sounds, they're speech sounds.

Thus, if anyone reports sound in speech, it's all speech sounds. That's how easy it is to tell the difference.

As to what Part of Speech the words are, you can call them anything you like, and it won't matter a bit. Knowing an official "Part of Speech" to label a word (or anything else) contributes precisely zero to one's knowledge of English grammar. As I point out in the post linked above, not everything they teach you in school is correct. Alas.

Real parts of speech (nowadays they're called Grammatical Categories) are simply those categories that are necessary to describe the grammar of a language, and they vary greatly -- like vowels or syllables -- from one language to another.

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Well, I'm asking the question on a site about the English language in particular. Parts of speech (or whatever term you prefer) are, of course, artificial, but it's fun to hear how others reason about these artificial boundaries, in original comments or referenced sources. –  Henrik N Feb 1 '12 at 19:36
    
Fair enough. Theories of grammar can be great entertainment. My guess, for what it's worth, is that if I were writing a paper for publication in a linguistics journal on these sounds and their representation, I'd call them onomatopoeic interjections. And, far more importantly, I'd give a range of examples so readers would know exactly which natural class I was referring to. Data is recognizable and convincing; names are just names. –  John Lawler Feb 1 '12 at 21:44
    
I like onomatopoetic interjections. –  Henrik N Feb 2 '12 at 20:02

I would use "animal communication" rather than "animal language". As we have not got enough data to prove animals use language, at least, we can not assign lexical categories.

Edit:

Interjections are the human equivalent of animal sounds - a sign uttered - a semiotic artefact which may have a sense and from which a "language" may evolve. Also it is possible to say "interjection" is for living organism - not only for human.

The "bong" of the bell - a "physical manifestation" as a result of "movement" can not be considered as interjection but only a "sound" - and if necessary to label or define this "sound" in our language system, yes we can call it noun, adverb, adjective but never interjection.

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Fair enough, but if you would be asked to take my example sentence above and assign parts of speech to it, what would you do with "oink" and "bong"? –  Henrik N Feb 1 '12 at 14:53
    
@Henrik N, please see my edit. –  Mustafa Feb 1 '12 at 19:06
    
Thanks. So your opinion is that "bong!" as the sound of an inanimate object falls outside the traditional parts of speech? What of the "smack!" of a human slapping his own leg? Slapping an inanimate object? :) I think it can be hard to defend the kind of distinction you propose. Perhaps with a more inclusive name, "interjection" might be the best fit. –  Henrik N Feb 1 '12 at 19:26
    
@Henry N, "smack" is a good point where semiotics and linguistics can be parted or linked. –  Mustafa Feb 1 '12 at 19:50

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