Alphabets & Writing Learn Hiragana Common Anime Words

Nya, Nyaa, Nyah, Nyan, Wan - Meaning

Saturday, October 15, 2016
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, "nyah," or even wan わん, but what the hell are they talking about? What does nyaa mean?

Meow in Japanese

Well, to translated in one word: nya means "meow" in Japanese, the sound that "cats," neko 猫, make. All the nya words mean that. They are just variations of a same onomatopoeic sound.
  • nya にゃ
  • nyaa にゃぁ
  • nyaa にゃあ
  • nyaa にゃー (with the ー prolonged sound mark)
  • nyaaa にゃあ
  • nyan にゃん

Also, because these words are onomatopoeia they're sometimes written with katakana instead of hiragana (see Japanese alphabets). That is, as: ニャ, ニャア, ニャー, ニャン, etc.

There's basically no difference between the words above, so why are there so many? This is because the Japanese language likes to spell out sounds and onomatopoeia a lot more than the English language does. Where we have just "meow" in English, Japan has nya, nyaa, nyan, etc.

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

Cat-Girl & Cat Words With Nya

Cat-girl characters in anime and manga, those with with nekomimi 猫耳, and also actual cats which possess the ability to speak in the human language, will often say some weird cat words that look like normal Japanese words but have nya in them somehow.

This is, of course, just the author adding some flavoring to their speech. Most of the time the meaning of the words are obvious. Examples:
  • sou nya! そうにゃ!
    sou da! そうだ!
    Yeah, that's right!
  • sou da nya そうだにゃ
    sou da na そうだな
    I think so too.
  • nyanda to?! にゃんだと?!
  • nanda to?! 何だと?!
    What did you say?!
  • nyani?! にゃに?!
    nani?! 何?!
    What?
  • nyanka kowai にゃんか怖い
    nanka kowai なんか怖い
    That seems scary.

Sometimes a meaningless nya is added at the end of sentences for no reason other than flavoring the character's speech. When a word like nya is added at the end like this it's called a gobi 語尾. These gohi words are many and they're specially frequent in manga and anime to put emphasis on a character stereotype.

Other times they simply say nya because nya means "meow" and cats / cat-girls are supposed to meow. Either way, there's no deeper meaning to it.

Azunyan あずにゃん or Azusa Nakano 梓 中野 from the manga K-On! けいおん! meowing with the word nya にゃ

Woof in Japanese

The word wan ワン means "woof" in Japanese, the sound "dogs," inu 犬, make.

So it's nyaa for cats, wan for dogs in Japanese, while it's meow for cats, woof for dogs in English.

Nya Doesn't Sound Like Meow?!

One thing you might have noticed is that nya, nyaa and nyan do not sound like English's "meow" in Japanese. Likewise, "woof" and wan are totally different things. Why is that? Do Japanese cats and dogs bark and meow differently from how English cats and dogs do? Do they sound weird like that?

Well, no.

I mean, I'm not sure you've seen a cat before, but the sound cat makes is neither nya nor meow. They make a lot of noises, many different cries. The English language settled in calling their cry "meow." The Japanese language settled in calling the same cry nya. Portuguese, my language, has settled in "miau."

These words are not exactly how cats sound, it's the word they thought of when they saw cats doing their thing, and it stuck. The same applies for wan and "woof."

Meaning of "Nyah"

Unlike nya, nyaa and nyaa, the word "nyah" is not a actually Japanese word. There is no way to make a word that ends in h using the standard rules of romaji. So what is nyah, then?

It's... *drum roll* ...an English word!!!

To explain better, to make the word nyaa someone Japanese saw heard a cat meowing and then decided nyaa was how you wrote the sound of the cat's meow. Then, to make the word "nyah," someone Non-Japanese heard a cat / cat-girl meowing in anime probably and then decided "nyah" was what that sound sounded like.

So instead of transliterating it to nya like you'd normally do, that person went a step further and made it more clear what the pronunciation of the word was for English speakers: nyah! Pronounced with an "ah!" at the end.

Nyanko にゃんこ and Wanko わんこ

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

You can imagine it means "lil' meow" or "lil' woof" or whatever if it makes it easier to understand for you.

Sometimes these words are changed further to become names of pets. For example, 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.

How to Say To Meow and To Bark in Japanese

Since you're here anyway, a new word for you: naku 鳴く. This word means more or less "to make animal sounds," so it can means "meowing," "barking" or even a bird's "singing." It can generally be used for any animal to refer to their cry.

The word naku 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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