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The sound of language: alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia

This video will teach you all about the different ways you can use the sound of words for effect. Alliteration is when you use a bunch of similar consonants in a row; assonance is when you use a bunch of similar vowel sounds in a row; onomatopoeia is basically sound effects. You'll see.

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Video transcript

- [David] Hello grammarians, hello Rosie! - [Rosie] Hi David! - [David] So, You've caught me mid-scribble in the greatest challenge of my career. Will I be able to write the word ono-mato-poeia? - [Rosie] You can do it. - [David] Did I get it? - [Rosie] You did it. - [David] Yes! This is one of my least favorite words to spell but one of my favorite things to talk about. Because what we're talking about today is alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia. And these are all words that are related to the way language sounds. But let's begin with alliteration. Rosie, what is alliteration? - [Rosie] Alliteration is when a series of words all start with the same consonant. - [David] So what's a good example of that? - [Rosie] Robert Park swam swiftly, surely, and straight ahead. - [David] So you can see that all these pink words here, swam, swiftly, surely, straight ahead, all begin with "S." And so this is why we call this alliteration because "S" is a consonant and all of these things share a similar consonant sound. Now I want to contrast that with assonance, which is what, Rosie? - [Rosie] Assonance is when a series of words all start with the same vowel. Althea abolished all anguish. - [David] So you can see, all of these words in the sentence in the same vowel neighborhood. - [Rosie] Right. - [David] But my favorite of all is onomatopoeia, which comes from Greek, and it basically means, like, onom, onomat, means a name resulting from doing. So really, this is, this word just means sounds like what it does. So any, really anything that you would conceive of as a sound effect, like a word that comes from a sound effect. So, the bees buzzed, for example. Like, what is buzzed? Well, it's the sound that a bee makes. It's what it does. But that word is derived from the buzz sound. But that's not the only example of onomatopoeia. We've compiled here a list. What have we got, Rosie? - [Rosie] Okay, we've got splat. That's kind of the sound of something hitting pavement. - [David] Splat. - [Rosie] Yep. We've got clang, which is like the clanging of a bell. We've got bang, which sounds like something exploding. Whoosh, which sounds like air or wind. Beep. - [David] Yeah. - [Rosie] Beep sounds like a beeping. (laughs) - [David] Like that is literally, so if you, if you are trying to summon up the actual sound of a thing and transcribe it and use it as a noun or a verb, you're using onomatopoeia. I know it's a terrifying looking word, right? Like, no one word should have this many vowels in front of the other. I get it, I get it. I'm, I'm terrified of spelling this word, but I managed to do it, apparently, and now you know what it means, and that should take away some of its scariness and impart to you some of its power. Because here at Khan Academy, we want you to have the power to harness language, and specifically, today, to harness these three different language styles. So, alliteration, repeating the same consonant a bunch of times in a row, so swimming, swiftly, surely, and straight ahead. - [Rosie] Assonance, where you repeat the same vowel, like abolished all anguish. - [David] And onomatopoeia, where you make a word that sounds like what the word's effect is. So the bees buzzed, the pudding cup went splat, the boxing bell fell to the floor with a clang, the firework went off with a bang, a flight of bats whooshed past my head, and the robot, the little baby robot beeped at me, insistently. - [Rosie] I like those. - [David] How can a robot be a baby? - [Rosie] I think it's just the size, right? - [David] Okay, sure. - [Rosie] Not the age. - [David] Okay, sure, yeah that's legitimate. So okay, I guess the question is now you know what these things are, but Rosie, why would a person want to use these techniques in language, whether written or spoken? - [Rosie] That's a great question. Writers can use some of these techniques to basically use the sound. To get across a pattern. - [David] Um-hum. - [Rosie] Like if you're going to use words that all sound the same at the beginning, with a bunch of "Ss" that kind of, could potentially build some momentum to your sentence. Like, it kind of makes the reader sit up and pay attention, too, like oh, this is an interesting pattern. So that could be one reason why a writer might use, for example, alliteration. - [David] Yeah, so it's a way to express a pattern and to build on what you were saying, you can also, it's just a good attention grabber, and it's also useful for its own sake, just as a technique for writing prose or poetry. Like, it's something, it's a useful property of language to be able to sometimes access. - [Rosie] Right, and a good example with onomatopoeia, ono-mato-poeia, is you're really capturing, you're really capturing the sound, so the reader is really able to be immersed in the experience even more fully. You can hear the sounds that are happening. The buzzing of the bees, or, yeah. It just puts you even more in the story that the writer's telling. - [David] That's why you would want to learn how to use assonance, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. You can learn anything. David out. - [Rosie] Rosie out.