Learn Hiragana
Saturday, October 15, 2016

Nya, Nyaa, Nyan and Wan - Meaning in Japanese

Every once in a while an anime character goes around and says something weird and impossible for humans to understand. Stuff like nya にゃ, nyaa にゃあ, nyan にゃん or even wan わん, but what the hell are they talking about? What does nyaa mean?

Well, to translated in one word: it's "meow" in Japanese, the sound cats make. All the nya words mean that. Yep. And wan わん, by the way, is the sound dogs make. "Woof" in Japanese.

So when you see cat girl characters in anime, alongside with nekomimi 猫耳, they'll often say the words nyaa, wan and the like to mimic "cats", neko 猫, "dogs," inu 犬, or whatever other animal they are trying to be.

Nyanko and Wanko

Joining the words nyan にゃん and wan わん with the word ko 子, which means "child of (something)" you get nyanko にゃん子 and wanko ワン子 which are the cute ways of saying "cat" and "dog" respectively.

In the manga and anime Hajime no Ippo はじめの一歩, a dog called wanpo ワンポ is the pet dog of the main character Ippo イッポ.

For added cuteness, the chan ちゃん honorific can be added, creating nyanko-chan にゃんこちゃん  and wanko-chan ワンコちゃん.

Why Nyaa and Wan

You're might be asking yourself: why is "meow" nyaa にゃあ? Why is it not miau みあう or something like that? Do Japanese cats speak in accent? Same for dogs, though, why wan わん and not ufu うふ?

I'm not sure when was the last time you saw a cat in real life, but they don't only say "meow." They make all sorts of cat noises, meowing noises. Some of them are nyaa, some are meow, but either way you got to decide on one single de facto official meowing onomatopoeia for your language. In English, it's "meow," in Japanese it's nyaa, in Portuguese it's miau.

To be fair, though, any of the below are considered cat noises in Japanese:
  • nya にゃ or ニャ
  • nyaa にゃあ or ニャア
  • nyaa にゃー or ニャー
  • nyan にゃん or ニャン

(meowing in hiragana and katakana, because it's commonly written with either)

By the way, the nyan one is from where this pest wonderful thing of the internet came from: www.nyan.cat.

Meowing and Barking

Since you're here anyway, a new word for you: naku 鳴く, means more or less "to make animal sounds," like "meowing," "barking" or even "singing" for birds. It can also be used for machines which make noises such as phones, etc.

(not to be confused with naku 泣く, which means "to cry," another type of noise)

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