If you’ve taught (or taken!) an introductory linguistics course lately, and spent any time discussing onomatopoeia and the arbitrariness of the sign, then you’ve probably talked about how speakers of different languages make different animal sounds. And, if you bothered to do a quick Google search for “animal sounds” or “animal noises“, then one of your first few hits will have probably been Cathy Ball‘s really fun and excellent Sounds of the World’s Animals website. This site is constantly under development, accepting contributions from readers, and has been up (and recognized with various awards and such) since
Which is why I was surprised to hear this story on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday this morning.
Scott Simon interviews the creators of bzzzpeek.com, Agathe Jacquillat and Tomi Vollauschek. This site is similar to Cathy’s, though (oddly) based on nationalities rather than languages, and with a few vehicle sounds thrown in (and actual sound files, recordings made by children from the various different countries represented). It’s graphically more sophisticated than Cathy’s site, but that’s because the creators are graphic designers — bzzzpeek.com redirects to a directory at FL@33 Ltd, a London-based “multi-disciplinary design studio for visual communication”. The studio’s news page notes that the New York Times published a story about bzzzpeek.com on June 7, which began a media mini-avalanche and, of course, more visits to their site (“Our server is smoking as the daily average of unique visitors to bzzzpeek.com is currently up to approx. 10.000 and rising (up from approx. 2.000).”)
What struck me about all this was the following exchange near the end of the NPR interview:
Simon: What convinced you there was a crying need for this website?
Vollauschek: Well, we run a design studio for visual communication, and it’s a good challenge for us to come up with fun projects like this one, so …
Jacquillat: We’ve been actually surprised that it didn’t exist.
Oh, but it did exist, and it was put together by an accomplished linguist. I’m disappointed in NPR and the Times for not not(ic)ing this. As noted above, two obvious Google searches turn up Cathy’s site in the top two; bzzzpeek.com doesn’t even make the first page of search results.
[Update: I wrote to Cathy Ball to ask about her Sounds of the World’s Animals site. She clarified that the site went up in 1995, and that she did an interview on NPR herself — just three years ago (05/18/02) on Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon, no less! Shame on you, Scott, for not at the very least cross-referencing one of your own interviews.]