Australian bird names

Subject: Australian bird names
From: John Leonard <>
Date: Tue, 16 Jun 1998 08:26:55 +1000
I can see a number of problems with Susan Myers suggestion that we find
Aboriginal names for Australian birds:

1. Which name would we use, there being over 200 Aboriginal languages, and
presumably we wouldn't want to use more than one, and how would we decide
which one?

2. How would we know that the name we had chosen for a particular species
actually means the species we assign it too. The majority of Aboriginal
languages are no longer spoken and the wordlists that were taken down were
taken down, in the main, ,by non-ornithologists, and by people who were not
fluent in the language. Therefore the faunal names in these word-lists would
tend to lack exactness (often in these lists the meaning given to a word is
'a small bird' or some such).

3. Many of the Aboriginal names for birds are difficult to assimilate to the
phonetic system of English (the original of Gang-gang for example was
something like Ngang Ngang-not impossible to say, but difficult to say
easily). If we water down Aboriginal names into 'English-friendly' forms, we
might as well not bother.

4. There already exists a sort of unofficial official world-list of bird
names in English, which birders whose first language is not English tend to
use in preference to the scientific names (this was brought home to me in
Malaysia, whereI heard  German, Dutch,  Japanese and birders of other
nationalities all used English names, even when talking to each other in
their own languages). If we started renaming Australian birds then this would
create disturbance to this de facto list of official English names.

John Leonard

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