When we examine the consonants and vowels that appear in a large number of Japanese onomatopoeia and their relationship to meaning, we notice some general tendencies. For these examples listed below, I will describe their meanings in parentheses, because precise English equivalents are difficult to find. Note as well that the description represents just one of two or more several possible meanings.
Voiceless consonants tend to signify a small, light, sharp, pretty, or positive activity, e.g. kirakira (small points of light shining), chirachira (glimpse of something showing), piripiri (spicy and tingling), tsuntsun (quick forward and stopping movement of a dragonfly in flight, someone having a haughty look), sakusaku (crushing and mashing on sand or sand-like surface; crunching crispy vegetable greens). On the other hand, voiced consonants generally signify a big, heavy, dull, dirty, or negative activity. Examples include giragira (glaring), daradara (fluid dripping in a messy manner; dallying), botabota (large drops of viscous fluid dripping), zakuzaku (crushing and mashing on hard, coarse, or granular material), biribiri (very spicy; sensation from an electric shock).
Vowel lengths can make a difference too--long vowels imply resonating sound, as in kān (a base hit perhaps) and gōn (the resonating sound of a temple bell; compare this to gon), while short ones signify a smaller amount of resonance or sound duration. We also know that certain consonant choices can evoke a certain type of meaning. For instance, consonants such as those produced using the hard palate: /k, g/ denote hardness, sharpness, clear-cut, separateness, detachment, or sudden change (e.g., kachikachi (small hard objects hitting each other), kukkiri (clearly, in sharp contrast), kippari (resolutely, decisively), gara gara (a large object moving, sliding, or falling suddenly with a great noise), gō« (thrusting something into something with considerable force producing a noise). The sibilants /s, z/ refer to a quiet state or quiet and quick motion (e.g., sa (quickly), surusuru (someone climbing a rope or a tree quickly and easily, speaking fluently), shitoshito (fine rain falling steadily), shinmiri (feel something deeply), shīn (a description of quietness, sound of people falling silent), shonbori (be deeply disappointed and crestfallen), kosokoso (do something in secret as if to avoid detection). The liquid consonant /r/ is often appear with fluid, smooth, slippery actions or conditions (e. g., sura (something comes out smoothly, quickly), kurukuru (spinning rapidly), tsurutsuru (something is slippery and shiny), nurunuru (slippery from viscous material), sarasara (something dry, is smooth and clean).
Nasal consonants /m, n/ are used to describe warm and soft objects. Examples include mukumuku (something like smoke billowing), muchimuchi (something warm, flexible, and fleshy to the touch), nayonayo (feeble and flexible), nichanicha (to adhere with gluey, gooey feeling), nyurunyuru (something slippery and smooth wiggles out quickly), nukunuku (warm and cozy), nechinechi (sticky and clingy). Words ending with a nasal expresses resonance (as we saw above in the cases of kān and kan) and rhythmicality as in binbin (reverberating loudly, repeating strong and loud sound), ponpon (hit something lightly repeatedly producing a resonating, hollow sound, say something quickly one after another), bunbun (propellers booming).