Foreign Findings: What does a Nicaraguan frog say?

I remember learning what a Spanish rooster says. I don’t remember what I learned, I just remember learning it in my high school Spanish class. And I think there was some funny joke about a French cat. I don’t remember that either. What I do remember is realizing that all the animal sounds we learn as kids are just made up. At some point in history, the creators of the English language decided that cats say, “meow,” pigs say, “oink” and donkeys say “hee haw” and all are spelled as such. At some point in history, all over the globe, the creators of every other language did the same thing.

One time, years ago, I was walking along some street in Masaya, Nicaragua with my sister and her then-boyfriend, Oscar. We’d gone to Masaya from nearby Granada to watch Oscar play in a basketball game that had, in the end, been cancelled. Anyway, we were trying to catch a bus back to Granada when we heard the strangest noises: “Boing, b-b-boing, boing.”

What is that?” My sister and I asked.

What? Oh, that? Those are frogs.” Oscar stated matter-of-factly.

Those are most definitely not frogs!” My sister and I had said in unison.

Oscar, who had a knack for remaining straight-faced when he was trying to pull one over on someone, insisted that the sounds were indeed, coming from frogs in the nearby bushes.

Leslie and I, who had the fact that we’d heard frogs before on our side, insisted he was lying. The noises were more electronic-y than ribbit-y and we surmised that they must be from a video game being played in one of the nearby houses.

The back and forth went on for about a block with Oscar insisting that he wasn’t pulling our legs (which might have been a phrase we had to explain to him) and my sister and I refusing to be played for fools. Then, we caught a bus and returned to Granada and we assumed the noise and it’s origins would remain a mystery – like so many things pertaining to travel do.

The mystery lasted for about two days. It was solved when the three of us were walking along a fairly secluded area in Granada. We were near the old, abandoned hospital and no houses that might contain video gamers were anywhere in the vicinity.

The sound was deafening.

Old hospital in Granada, Nicaragua.

I don’t have a video of the sound but here is the old hospital. (Also, it’s probably my most creepiest image from any of my travels – so Happy Halloween!)

It quickly became clear that Leslie and I had to eat some crow – not that I know what a Nicaraguan crow sounds like.

I guess, looking back, it makes sense that different varieties of animals in different regions of the world make different noises, but still, those Nicaraguan frogs sounded like they came straight out of a Playstation, not straight out of nature.

Save for the occasional reference to (and imitation of) those techy amphibians, I don’t think about those frogs too much, but this summer in Colombia I was reminded of them all over again. It happened while Andy and I were out for a little walk on the edge of town in Guatapé. We were watching some kids playing with a dog in a field and probably talking about missing our dog, Chaos, when we heard them – Colombian frogs. They didn’t sound exactly like the ones in Nicaragua, but they sounded more like their Central American counterparts than the North American ones that I’m used to hearing.

Here is a little video I took:

I’m not a frog expert and so it’s actually quite possible that most frogs, even in the United States, sound like the Colombian ones. Still, to me and my non-frog-expert ears, they sounded funny. If you just watched that and are thinking I’m crazy, here is what I’m used to hearing when I hear frogs – which to be honest, isn’t very often.

So whether or not I’m completely wrong about what a typical frog sounds like, you still have to think that what I said at the beginning, about different languages having different onomatopoeias for animal sounds, makes pretty good sense. If I was in charge of creating a word for what those Central and South American frogs were saying, I doubt I would have come up with ribbit.

On that note, I’ll leave you with this very cool video that showcases how people from all over the world say animal sounds. Some vary pretty wildly but others, like a cat’s meow don’t stray too far from what we say. Although I do have to wonder if, toward the end, the girl from Brazil is trying to pull our collective audience leg and sneak in a donkey sound instead of a pig sound. That, or maybe Brazilian pigs sound like donkeys, which I suppose still makes more sense than a frog sounding like a video game.

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