Dog goes "woof."
Cat goes "meow."
Bird goes "tweet."
Is there some specific meaning for "go"?
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"Say" applies to speech, and dogs, cats and birds can't speak. Which means "say" is the wrong word.
What would you place there instead? "Vocalizes"? Works for dogs, cats and birds, but what about a crickets and bees? They don't vocalize. How about "Emits" as the catch-all for animal noises? Way too collegiate.
There are often more specific verbs: The dog barks "Woof". OK so far. The bird tweets "Tweet". That's awkward. The cat coos "meow". Well, now we're adding meaning, since cooing suggests a different mental state than mewling or chirping (just read any mystery which involves cats trying to help).
This is a linguistic Gordian knot.
A relatively common, generic word like "Go" is about as good as this situation will get... and it's not so bad. It adds a bit of stylistic color to the language, and certainly specifies a level of formality (or to be more precise, informality). I wonder how a proper British butler would speak of it.
Verbs with very broad meanings like do or go get the sense of "say" in many languages. English uses "go" to mean "say" in very informal speech. There are children's songs about animal sounds that use it in this way.
Dog goes "woof." Cat goes "meow." Bird goes "tweet."
Is there some specific meaning for "go"?
No, it's just a broad term marking an action. Much like
A dog makes woof.
A bomb goes boom is most definitely not a task of speaking - in fact, the use of go(es) is so unspecific, that here it could mean the sound as well as the explosion or the destruction.
Say, in contrast, includes the very specific meaning of speaking (or text to be read). It's usually not including animal sounds - unless in some transferred, poetic context (let the wind speak for example.)
The duality is found in next to all languages with Germanic roots - already found in 12th-century texts.
It could have as well been used in the upfront question (
What does the fox say) as
How does the Fox go except that usage of 'say' does explicity ask for a sound/word 'spoken' - not to mention that it's everyday kids' language :)
The pattern '[Animal] goes [sound]' was widely-popularized by the See 'n Say educational toy produced by Mattel since 1965.
I haven't seen any official confirmation that the artist was specifically inspired by this particular pop culture gem, however.
The MacMillan Dictionary gives many definitions of "go"; one of them is "to make a particular sound, especially the typical sound of a particular animal." "Go" would also apply to the sound of an inanimate object: for example, "toot goes the whistle" or "clang goes the bell." In those cases "says" might be understood, but "goes" is more natural.
Personal experience here, but I can say that growing up in the US Midwest in the 1980s, it was absolutely common for kids my age to say “goes” as a substitute for “says”. Drove my mom nuts, but we did it.
I believe (and thought so at the time) that it has to do with the idea that you’re not simply reciting the person’s words, but imitating their mannerisms as well. How they said it, not just what they said.
I don't think that Ylvis paid any special attention to what verb they used for their narration of animal sounds (unless they aren't good English speakers - can anyone confirm/deny?). It's simply a different way to say "says", albeit less formal. I doubt there was any special intent to create comedic effect out of "dog goes woof" beyond the rather ridiculous idea of including nursery-rhyme-esque statements in their lyrics. The verb "to go" here is nothing special. "Dog says woof" would have been just as acceptable.
I’d argue yes, whilst it’s not a strict rule there is a specific case in play here where it’s normal.
Particularly with children, it’s a common way of expressing characteristic (actions/)sounds that may or may not be spoken words, including animal sounds.
So it’d be normal to say “the dog goes woof” to a child.
“Goes” obviously broader than sounds - in the song “wheels on the bus”, the “wheels go round and round”, the “baby goes wah wah wah”, and the “daddy goes shh read the paper” (at least in the version sung locally!). But it’s commonly used of characteristic actions or noises.
The lyrics of the song in question have the feel of a children’s conversation/question (part of the quirky appeal of it), so “goes” is normal to express the characteristic noises of the animals. The question is then phrased “what does the fox say?” Which - despite “say” not being entirely accurate, is the natural way to ask this of a child, as “what does the Fox go?” Or “how does the Fox go?” Are not as clear as to what is being asked.
We also see “goes” used of speech in phrases like “he was going on and on”, or “he was going on about English grammar”. However, using it of reported speech would be considered incorrect (in standard EN-GB at least).
One of Oxford English Dictionary's definitions for go is:
Make a sound of a specified kind. Example: "The engine went bang."
As far as I know, this is not a colloquialism, it is the verb to use in the case when a sound, but not speech is the direct object.
It can also be used to in reported speech, usually informally. Bit hard to find examples of this use, as you still get all the more common uses of "go", but here's an example from a Snow Patrol interview:
The producer said, ‘Well okay, tape rolling,’ and we started — and then he went, ‘What was that Nathan was playing? That was much better,’ so we had to change the whole song.
Dogs, cats and birds cannot say anything, because they cannot speak, thus the only verb that really makes sense here is "go". I don't think this is stylistic, or a very recent innovation, as some answers seem to imply.