When a young girl is surprised or excited, she’ll most probably scream out loud. And in the world of onomatopoeia, the most common expression she’s expected to say is “Kyaa!”
Imagine you’re at a concert filled with eager fangirls who are there to watch their favourite idol perform. When he appears on stage, the entire stadium will shriek a collective “Kyaaaaa!” out of pure excitement.
“Kyaa!” is an adorable way of speech that is very girly and feminine. Take the cute female characters you see in your favourite anime or manga as an example. When they’re talking animatedly or suddenly surprised, they make high-pitched noises. In Japan, this style is referred to as kiiroi koe黄色い声, which loosely translates to “yellow voice”.
But on the other side of the spectrum, when the sound becomes “gyaa”, it gives a more negative impression of being noisy and irritating. Like the birds outside your window that just refuse to stay quiet in the early hours of the morning, or when over-boisterous children are making a racket while you’re trying to rest. If someone is complaining about something in a loud, annoying voice, this condition can be described as “gyaa gyaa”.
Women who are able to use “Kyaa!” well are often popular amongst the men, because it evokes their protective instincts to take care of this powerless, innocent being.
“When I’m caught off-guard, I often say “Wow!!” or “Ohh!!” I don’t know why, but it’s very difficult for me to scream “Kyaa!” in a cute way. “
Akiko Nishio is the principal of A to Z Language Centre, with over 20 years of experience in teaching Japanese. She has a soft spot for good books, travelling, and ice-cold beer.