What's so great about a list of bird names? After all, the names that men give are just a pale reflection of the birds themselves.
Well, bird-lovers may rejoice in biodiversity, but in matters linguistic they tend to use common or garden English as a lowest common denominator. So, in the interest of 'lingua-diversity', this site offers the official names (or, less accurately, the 'common names') of bird species found in a number of major Asian nations, currently encompassing Mongolia, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, and West Malaysia and Singapore.
The site is a result of the joint efforts of Greg Pringle (of Australia) and Michael Nichols (of the United States). It is based on an earlier project, a subsite of the cjvlang website, about Bird Names in Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese (later renamed the Birds of East and Southeast Asia), which started in about October of 2000. The Bird Names subsite was principally concerned with recording and comparing bird names in Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese -- languages of the 'Sinosphere'. It focussed on the places in East Asia where those languages are spoken, namely, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam, but regrettably not the two Koreas.
This site takes the information of cjvlang and repackages it in the following ways:
- Coverage is expanded to other East and Southeast Asian countries: full lists for China and Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and Mongolia (by Greg Pringle), as well as Thailand and West Malaysia/Singapore (by Michael Nichols). Names from Korean, Kazakh, Turkish, and Indonesian have been added to the lists where appropriate.
- Apart from Chinese and Japanese, East Asian languages have names only for birds in their own territories, meaning that any list of birds for all of East and Southeast Asia will feature large blanks if full coverage is attempted. In Sibagu, the focus is on individual countries or provinces, featuring the language or languages spoken in that country/province, as well as names in the languages of neighbouring countries, or countries that have a particular connection to that country/province.
Because they continue to evolve with new knowledge, new approaches, and, perhaps most importantly, continued efforts by the ornithological authorities to make them more "rational" or "scientifically accurate", it is difficult to keep any such list completely up to date. This is particularly the case with English, where there a number of authoritative lists exists and an international body (the IOC) is making continued attempts to produce its own authoritative list of world bird names to unite them all; and with Mongolian, where an artificial attempt to produce a bird list in rigid conformity with the taxonomy, resulting in forced and artificial modifications to the scope of ordinary bird names, is now being gradually and partially rectified, but without addressing the basic problem of forcing bird names into lockstep with an ever-changing taxonomic mould. This list is up to date as of approximately 2015. For English it takes Howard-Moore as standard and does not take account of IOC names. For Mongolian it does not incorporate more recent attempts to rectify the unfortunate 2007 naming.
The site is far more than a collection of bird lists, although hopefully it will also be useful for this purpose. Bird names offer an amazing linguistic cross-section of the cultures and histories of the countries covered. They touch on hidden aspects of history, including past international interchange, patterns in the folk naming of birds, the adaptation and evolution of international scientific terminology, and the interaction between folk names and ornithological names. While there are many puzzles, at almost every turn new facts and interpretations come to light that show unsuspected currents, influences, commonalities, and differences in linguistic and terminological development.
A few of the themes that emerge include the huge impact of Western science on all the countries of Asia and ways in which this impact made itself felt in the creation of terminology; the early cultural impact of China on Japan, and more interestingly Japan's early leading role in importing Western knowledge, which exerted a huge influence on both China and Korea; areal commonalities in bird names in Southeast Asia despite the existence of different language groups and scripts; the shared roots of some naming systems and the way in which later political developments led to increasing divergence (e.g., Japan and China, China and Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia, Mongolia and Inner Mongolia); and the way in which ornithological terminology is becoming increasingly 'regularised' in order to reflect the scientific taxonomy.