Re: Australian bird names

To: "ozbird" <>, "John Leonard" <>
Subject: Re: Australian bird names
From: "Susan Myers" <>
Date: Tue, 16 Jun 1998 18:18:48 +1000
> I can see a number of problems with Susan Myers suggestion that we find
> Aboriginal names for Australian birds:
There are lots of problems! I hope no-one is under the misapprehension that
I am seriously encouraging a total overhaul of the RENs, I just believe
it's time we rethink some of our prejudices.
> 1. Which name would we use, there being over 200 Aboriginal languages,
> presumably we wouldn't want to use more than one, and how would we decide
> which one?
It's basically a choice between totally inappropriate secondhand Anglo
names or some more (possibly) appropriate home grown ones.
> 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
> taken down, in the main, ,by non-ornithologists, and by people who were
> fluent in the language. Therefore the faunal names in these word-lists
> tend to lack exactness (often in these lists the meaning given to a word
> 'a small bird' or some such).
Sure but I believe there are still a lot of Aboriginal languages in use. In
certain parts of Australia that is obviously an issue though. 
> 3. Many of the Aboriginal names for birds are difficult to assimilate to
> 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,
> might as well not bother.
Well, what's wrong with that? We've done the same thing to a multitude of
English words that originally derive from a foreign language. 
> 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
> use in preference to the scientific names (this was brought home to me in
> Malaysia, where I 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
> create disturbance to this de facto list of official English names.
Another valid point, my argument would be that at least when you're talking
about a magpie (for example) in Malaysia it has some meaning as they are
taxonomically related to magpies in Europe, whereas the name for our magpie
is very misleading.

(BTW the Vic Babbler is the magazine of the VicGroup of Birds Australia)

Susan Myers
phone: +61 3 9819 2539
Email:Susan Myers 

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