AskDefine | Define ululation

Dictionary Definition

ululation n : a long loud emotional utterance; "he gave a howl of pain"; "howls of laughter"; "their howling had no effect" [syn: howl, howling]

User Contributed Dictionary



from Latin "ululare" (intransitive verb of the first conjugation)



  1. A long, loud, mournful cry or howl.


Extensive Definition

An ululation is a long, wavering, high-pitched sound resembling the howl of a dog or wolf. It is an onomatopoetic word derived from Latin.
Ululation is found in some singing techniques and ritual situations. In Arab countries ululation is commonly used by women to express celebration or grief, especially at weddings and funerals. It may also be used to encourage belly dancing. In the Middle East, zaghareet is an ululation performed to honor someone. In East Africa, ululation (or ililta) performed by worshippers is a feature of services in the Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, and is also commonly used in secular celebrations such as parties or concerts. Ululation is incorporated into African musical styles such as Shona music, where it is a form of audience participation, along with clapping and call-and-response. Herodotus appears to mention ululation in North Africa (where it is still practiced), saying:
I think for my part that the loud cries uttered in our sacred rites came also from thence; for the Libyan women are greatly given to such cries and utter them very sweetly.
The Basque irrintzi is a signal of happiness originating from shepherds
American experimental singer and composer Joan La Barbara uses ululation as well as other extended techniques such as circular singing and glottal clicks.

In popular culture

Ululation appears in many films set in the Middle East, such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Battle of Algiers. Sometimes it is depicted as a battle cry, for example in Xena: Warrior Princess. Even the animated feature GI Joe: The Movie featured the ululation "Cobra-la-la-la-la-la". It appears as comic relief in The Simpsons episodes "The Last Temptation of Homer" and "Midnight Rx"; as well as Family Guy in the episode "E. Peterbus Unum" where Stewie is curious about the sound Achmed "makes when you're about to assassinate an infidel". In Three Kings, the movie set in Iraq following the first Gulf War there is a scene where Spike Jonze, as Private First Class Conrad Vig, joins the Iraqi Shiite women in their ululating cries of joy until he is told this is not done by men.
Ululation is also widely practiced in southern and eastern parts of India. People, especially women roll their tongues and produce this sound during festivals and celebrations. This is also an integral part of most weddings in these parts where depending upon the local usages people ululate to welcome the groom or bride or both.
While in Tamil it is known as 'Kulavai'. Bengalis and Oriyas call it Ulu-uli.
Ululation also appears as a method of communication between members of Jack's tribe of savages during the hunt for Ralph during the climax of Lord of the Flies.
ululation in German: Heulen
ululation in Hebrew: צהלולים
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