Playing and sounding

The other day I discovered that to play in Italian is giocare or divertirsi, but if you’re playing a musical instruments the word you need is suonare, which also means to ring, sound, strike or toot. So I can say, Suono la chitarra, il piano(forte), il mandolino, il flauto dolce e il fischietto. (I play the guitar, piano, mandolin, recorder and tin whistle.)

You can also use this verb to talk about striking clocks: l’orologio ha suonato le cinque (the clock struck five) and ringing phones: sta suonando il telefono (the phone is ringing). Also to talk about metaphorical sounds: Potrà suonare avventato, da un lato troppo aggressivo e dall’altro troppo ottimistico. (That may sound presumptuous, too aggressive for some, too optimistic for others.)

Related expressions include:

– fare suonare = to misuse, to over-use, to abuse
– suonare a morto = to knell
– suonare come ritornello = to reprise
– suonare per strada = to busk

In English you use play for both playing instruments and playing games, you can also play around while playing an instrument – how would you say that in Italian, or in other languages?

Welsh has chwarae as the general word for play and canu (to sing) for playing instruments, especially harps, though chwarae is also used for instruments.

In Mandarin there is 玩 (wán) for general play, while the words for playing instruments depend on the type of instrument: 拉 (lā), to pull, is used for bowed instruments such as violins and cellos; 吹 (chuī), to blow, is used for wind instruments; 弹 [彈] (tán), to pluck, is used for string instruments like guitars; 打 (dǎ), to beat/strike, is used for percussion instruments, and 演奏 (yǎnzòu) is a general word for playing an instrument or performing.

Do other languages has separate words for playing instruments and playing games?

Sources: Collins Italian Dictionary, dictionary

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Italian, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

13 Responses to Playing and sounding

  1. David Eger says:

    Spanish has jugar (and Portugese, jogar) as the generic word for ‘to play’, whilst tocar (=’to touch’) is used for ‘to play (an instrument)’.

    Irish has imir in the generic sense and sheinm for playing an instrument. The latter has no apparent connection with the Welsh, for which Irish has an obvious cognate, can (‘to sing’).

    In Welsh, chwarae seems to be an acceptable alternative to canu. I often find myself favouring chwarae, to make the distinction between singing and playing an instrument – probably an indication that I have not yet learned to think in Welsh.

    In Swedish, spela is used for both senses. Spelman is understood specifically to be one that plays music (folk music, in particular). This appears as a loanword in Finnish, as pelimanni.

  2. Shenn Ghaelgeyr says:

    It is interesting that, although Gaelg (Manx Gaelic) is closely related to Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic), the Manx word for ‘playing’ (‘cloie’) has no apparent link to either of the words quoted by David. The word means ‘playing’ in both senses, while ‘singing’ is ‘goaill arrane’ (literally, ‘taking song’).

  3. TJ says:

    In Arabic the words for playing a musical instrument, and playing a device (say, a tape for example), and play a game, are all different. It seems that some languages do use the verb to sing to mean also to play a instrument, but in Arabic that would be also different. I would say even for musical devices, the verb to play might be different for some of those. Some illustration (all in 3rd masculine present tense):

    1. to play (musical, general): ya?zif [يعزف].
    2. to play (tape): yušağğil [يشغّل], literally: to turn on.
    3. to play (game): yal?ab [يلعب].
    4. to play (drum): yad’rib [يضرب], literally: to beat (on).

    [ğ: French R, š: English “Sh,” ?: pharyngeal fricative, d’: pharyngealized fricative; according to IPA on Omniglot].

    Sometimes, other types of verbs are used for instrumental devices depending on the nature of the device (e.g. to blow (in) for instruments that require air flow like flutes and so). However, the verb “ya?zif” deals with most instruments and changing the verb is just a way to show more eloquence in language usage.

  4. TJ says:

    Correction: d’ is pharyngealized plosive.

  5. JIm M. says:

    The verb form can vary a bit in Indonesian, but basically both are forms of “main,” to play. However, if it’s something that turns, like a record or a CD, you use “putar,” to turn.

  6. pittmirg says:

    Polish has several equivalents of the English verb ‘to play’, which are not really interchangeable.

    1) bawić się. It can mean ‘play’ in the sense of toying with something, without implicit rules (e.g. what a child could do with a doll or a toy car). It can also mean ‘to party’ or ‘to have fun’ (świetnie się bawimy – we’re having a great time).

    2) grać. This verb is used when somebody is playing a game which has some settled rules (could be a sport); it takes the preposition w(e) in this case. The word is also used for playing an instrument but with the preposition na.

    3) puszczać. The basic meaning of this verb is ‘to let out’ or ‘drop’ (cease to hold). However you also want to use it when you are playing music that is recorded (regardless if it is a gramophone record or a mp3 file).

  7. Lev says:

    In other Slavic languages there is also a distinction between playing a game and playing like children. In Serbian it’s “igrati” for a game and “se igrati” (“to play oneself”) for kids playing. The same distinction exists in Russian (играть/играться), however, in literary Russian the non-reflexive form is used in all cases.

    In Hebrew, playing music is called לנגן, while playing games / playing around is לשחק.

  8. MadFall says:

    This made me check out the French. Seems the Académie Francaise doesn’t like “jouer un disque” for “play a record” preferring “mettre un disque”- “put (on) a record”.

  9. TJ says:

    @Lev : the Hebrew verb [ לשחק], does it have any other meanings? like “to powder” or “to crush”? It is somehow close to the Arabic: sahaq which has a meaning as mentioned.

    I think I recognize the verb [לנגן], and I think it is also related to “to sing” or the word “song”? I can’t refresh my memory enough right now unfortunately.

  10. joe mock says:

    In Tagalog you just make a mag- verb out of the noun for whatever it is and conjugate away.

  11. Kevin Flynn says:

    In short, it’s English that’s odd in using just one word — “play” — to cover a multiplicty of meanings.

    Such things often seems to happen. Spanish, for instance, has distinct words for inside- and outside-corners (resp, rincón and esquina) and for internal / dividing and external / load-bearing walls (pared and muro).

    I find it odd, in the other direction, that so many European languages appear to lack English’s straightforward “deep” v. “shallow” distinction — French, for instance, having AFAIK to convey the meaning of “shallow” with the circumlocution (from the English-speaker’s point of view) peu profond (i.e. “not very deep”).

  12. Lev says:

    The root שחק can mean “abrase”/”erode”. It might be related.
    In modern Hebrew, “song” is שיר (also “poem”), but maybe it was different in Biblical times…

  13. Katie says:

    Swahili has two very common verbs, kupiga, “to beat” and kucheza, “to play,” but only one word, ngoma for “dance, music, piece of music, drum, celebration/event at which there is music.” So kupiga ngoma is “to beat a drum” but kucheza ngoma is “to dance a dance” (literally, to play a dance).

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