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Sparrows are familiar birds found wherever people live. The original name for the sparrows, 雀 , is found in the oldest written materials discovered in China and in later ages came to be used as a synonym for small passerine birds in general. As in the rest of East Asia, the most common sparrow in Taiwan is the Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus.
In the modern vernacular the sparrows are known as 麻雀 , literally 'flax sparrow'. In colloquial northern Chinese usage this may also be pronounced . There are a number of other vernacular names for the sparrows, which can be seen in the tables. One traditional name for the sparrows, 黄雀 'yellow sparrow' (still preserved in Japanese as 黄雀 kōjaku), has been ornithologically re-assigned to the siskin (Spinus spinus).
Modern ornithological naming is a direct outcome of the earliest ornithological names found in Chinese Birds of 1927 (35), which assigned all the sparrows and finches to the Fringillidae (finches). In that list, true sparrows were identified simply as varieties of 雀 . This approach was possible because 雀 was already established in Chinese as a general name for small passerines.
After Passer was placed with the Ploceidae (weavers), Chinese ornithologists adopted the modern colloquial name 麻雀 , 'flax sparrow' or 'flax finch' for the genus.
As Chinese Birds included both sparrows and finches in the Fringillidae, the family name 雀科 què kē was thereafter conventionally used for the Fringillidae.
Taiwanese ornithologists continued to assign 雀科 què kē to the Fringillidae after the Passeridae were recognised as a separate family and called the Passeridae 麻雀科 má-què kē. In contrast, Mainland ornithologists reassigned 雀科 què kē to the Passeridae and renamed the Fringillidae as 燕雀科 yàn-què kē, based on the name of the Brambling (genus Fringilla), 燕雀 yàn-què 'swallow finch'.
Use of the name 雀 què in Chinese
The earliest records of the character 雀 are found in ancient oracle bones dating back as far as 1200 BC. They show a bird with a character meaning 'small' placed above it:
The pronunciation of 雀 (modern reading or ) has been reconstructed as tsɨak in Early Middle Chinese of the 6th century (Pulleyblank). The name is probably onomatopoeic, representing the cheep of a small bird. This is a softer sound than the now homonymous name of the magpie, 鵲 , which has been reconstructed with a breathier onset as tsʰɨak.
In its narrowest sense 雀 què is traditionally understood to mean 'sparrow'. The Shuowen Jiezi of the 2nd century characterises 雀 as a small bird living near people. It was in this meaning that 雀 was adopted into Japanese and given the default kun-reading of suzume 'sparrow'.
While the core meaning is traditionally understood as 'sparrow', 雀 is also found in at least two other senses. One is as a general word meaning 'bird', which can still be seen in fossilised words like 孔雀 'peacock' and 朱雀 'red bird', a large mythical red-coloured bird symbolising the direction south.
A more current meaning is the use of 雀 for small birds in general, as suggested by the structure of the oracle-bone character. This sense was well established in pre-modern times, as in the Imperial Pentaglot Manchu Mirror (37) of the late eighteenth century, which formally divided birds into two groups: 鸟 or larger birds and 雀 or smaller birds. However, while it resembles the modern classification into non-passerines and passerines, this division was by no means fully congruent with it.
In non-ornithological or vernacular names, 雀 can be found used for species in such families as the Strigidae (owls), Alcedinidae (kingfishers), Emberizidae (buntings), Estrilididae (munias), Muscicapidae (flycatchers), Sittidae (nuthatches), Sturnidae (starlings), and Sylviidae (parrotbills).
雀 in ornithological naming
Modern ornithological naming patterns generally reflect the expansion and elaboration of early ornithological names.
1. 雀 in the meaning 'finch'
In general, 雀 equates to English 'finch', mainly due to its use for the Fringillidae (more specifically the Fringillinae and Emberizinae) in Chinese Birds of 1927 (35). The link to 'finch' was reinforced when the Emberizidae became a separate family and were renamed 鵐 'bunting'.
雀 is commonly used in the Mainland naming of extralimital species called 'finch' in English. Examples include the Coal-crested Finch Charitospiza eucosma, a bunting given the Chinese name 煤冠雀 'coal-crested finch', the Sierra finches, which have been given the name 岭雀鵐 'mountainridge-finch-bunting', and the Finch-billed Myna Scissirostrum dubium known as 雀嘴八哥 'finch-billed myna'. In all cases the Chinese name has been influenced by or is a direct calque of the English name.
2. 雀 in the meaning 'sparrow'
Despite the failure to distinguish 'sparrows' from 'finches', in a number of cases 'sparrow' clearly lies in the background of the use of 雀 . These include:
a) In China, the Passeriformes are known as 雀形目 què-xíng-mù, literally 'sparrow-form-order'. This and the recent reassignment of 雀科 què-kē to the Passeridae treat 雀 què as equivalent to Passer (sparrow).
b) English 'sparrow' clearly existed as a 'cryptic category' behind early Chinese bird naming. 石雀 'stone sparrow' (Mainland species) is a calque on English 'rock sparrow'. The Java Sparrow (Estrildidae) was named 爪哇雀 zhǎowā-què 'Java sparrow', also a calque on English. 雀 què is also used in naming a number of Mainland names for extralimital species known as 'sparrows' in English. One example is the Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca, a New World bunting, which is known in one Chinese list as 狐色雀鵐 hú-sè què-wú 'fox-coloured sparrow-bunting'. The use of 雀 here is based on the English name.
c) Members of the genus Passer have since been renamed 麻雀 'flax sparrow/finch'. This use of the Chinese vernacular name represents an attempt in ornithological naming to set 'sparrows' clearly apart from other birds called 雀 .
d) A number of genera in the Alcidae are known as 海雀 'sea sparrow', a borrowing from Japanese 海雀 umi-suzume 'sea-sparrow', which identifies these species as 'sparrows of the sea'.
e) Contrary to appearances, 雀鷹 'sparrow hawk' (Accipitridae) is not a calque on English 'sparrowhawk' but an old Chinese name. The name is possibly based on its small size and brown colouring.
3. 雀 in the meaning 'tit'
Chinese Birds of 1927 used 山雀 shān-què for all birds known as 'tits' in English: the Paridae, Aegithalidae, Remizidae, and Paradoxornithidae. This name is possibly based on the Japanese name of the Varied Tit, which is ヤマガラ yamagara, written 山雀 'mountain sparrow'. The name 山雀 shān-què was restricted by later ornithologists to the genus Parus (now split among a number of genera) and the family Aegithalidae (long-tailed tits). Other species using the word 'tit' in English have been reduced to 雀 in Chinese, including some members of the Paridae and the Remizidae. In these names, 雀 is the equivalent of English 'tit'.
4. 雀 in other passerine families
a) Besides the Fringillidae, 雀 was also used in (35) in the name of the Certhiidae (woodcreepers), known as 旋木雀 'tree-circling sparrow/finch'. This included Tichodroma (wallcreepers), known as 旋壁雀 'wall-circling sparrow/finch'. The background and origin of these names is unclear.
b) Although Chinese Birds did not use雀 for the Estrildidae, the Red Avadavat (Amandava amandava) was later given the old vernacular name 梅花雀 'plum-flower-finch', which has now given its name to the family. Apart from those called 'munias', many other members of the Estrildidae are known as 雀 , but this can mostly be attributed to the occurrence of 'finch' in their English names.
c) 連雀 lián-què, literally 'linked-finch', appears to be an old Chinese name for the waxwings. It continues to be used in Japanese, which possibly led to its revival in Chinese naming. It is restricted in ornithological usage to the extralimital Hypocoliidae, a family which is very similar to the waxwings.
5. General name for small passerines
Apart from the examples given above, 雀 has been used extensively as a convenient way of creating new bird names, especially those of extralimital species where no satisfactory Chinese name exists. In such cases there is no clear link to either 'sparrow' or 'finch'.
6. 雀 in 孔雀 kǒng-què 'peacock'
Finally, 雀 is also used in the old traditional name 孔雀 kǒng-què 'peacock', where it represents the broader meaning of 'bird'. Apart from the peacocks (genus Pavo), 孔雀 kǒng-què is also used in the names of the peacock-pheasants, a direct calque on the English naming.
One of the alternative Chinese names for the Tree Sparrow, 王母使者 ('emissary of the queen mother') relates to a story from ancient China. Yang Bao was a man of great moral integrity. In his childhood, he found an injured 'yellow sparrow' (黄雀 ) which he rescued and nursed back to health. One night a boy dressed in yellow appeared to Yang Bao saying he was a servant of the Queen Mother of the West. While on a mission to the fairy land in the east he had been attacked by a bird of prey and owed his life to Yang Bao. The boy gave Yang Bao four rings, guaranteeing that four generations of his family would rise to high rank.
SCIENTIFIC & ENGLISH
'red sparrow' (also Schoeniclus rutilus and Erythrina erythrina)
'cinnamon coloured sparrow'
'mountain zhi zhi'
'enter court sparrow'
'island sparrow bird'
|Chim Sẻ hung
'reddish sparrow (bird)' (12, 13, 34)
||Eurasian tree sparrow
'tree sparrow' (alt in 1, 3)
'house sparrow' (dialect)
'old house thief' (dialect)
'old house fellow'
'emissary of the queen mother' (see note)
A wealth of popular names (see Hiraizumi)
'sparrow (bird)' (12, 13, 34)
ニュウナイ nyū-nai means 'entry into the Imperial court'. According to legend, the poet Fujiwara no Sanekata was exiled to the wilds of Tohoku after an incident at court and died before he could return to Kyoto. The appearance at this time of a sparrow at the Imperial court which consumed whole bowls of rice gave rise to rumours that the 'court-entering sparrow' was Sanekata’s aggrieved soul. Sanekata was also linked to the devastation of crops by sparrows. Passer cinnamomeus, which breeds in the northeast and descends on rice fields around the country in autumn, is thus known as ニュウナイスズメ nyū-nai suzume.
中国鸟类种和亚种分类名录大全（修订版） 郑作新 著 科学出版社 北京 2000年
A Complete Checklist of Species and Subspecies of the Chinese Birds (Revised Edition) by Cheng Tso-Hsin, Science Press, Beijing 2000
中国鸟类分类与分布名录 主编：郑光美 科学出版社 北京 2005年
A Checklist on the Classification and Distribution of the Birds of China Chief editor: Zheng Guangmei, Science Press, Beijing 2005
中国鸟类野外手册（中文版）约翰・马敬能、卡伦・菲利普斯，合作者：荷芬奇，翻译：卢和芬 湖南教育出版社 长沙 2000年
A Field Guide to the Birds of China (Chinese translation) by John MacKinnon, Karen Phillipps, in collaboration with He Fen-qi, translated by Lu Hefen, Hunan Jiaoyu Chubanshe (Hunan Educational Press) Changsha 2000
世界鸟类分类与分布名录 主编：郑光美 科学出版社 北京 2002年
A Checklist on the Classification and Distribution of the Birds of the World Chief editor: Zheng Guangmei, Science Press, Beijing 2002
世界鸟类名称（拉丁文、汉文、英文对照）第二版 郑作新等 科学出版社 北京 2002年
Birds of the World (Latin, Chinese and English Names) 2nd ed. by Cheng Tso-Hsin et al, Science Press, Beijing 2002
中国鸟类分布名录 第二版 郑作新 科学出版社 北京 1976年
(Checklist of the Classification of Birds of China 2nd edition by Cheng Tso-Hsin, Science Press, Beijing 1976)
香港及華南鳥類（第六版）（翻譯成中文及重新修訂） 尹璉、費嘉倫、林超英 香港性徵特區政府新聞處政府印務局 1994年
Birds of Hong Kong and South China (6th edition, translated into Chinese and newly revised) by Clive Viney, Karen Phillipps, Lin Chaoying, Hong Kong Govt. Press 1994
Danh Lục Chim Việt Nam (In lần thứ hai) (Checklist of the Birds of Vietnam) Võ Quý, Nguyễn Cử, Nhà Xuất Bản Nông Nghiệp, Hà Nội 1999
Chim Việt Nam Nguyễn Cử, Lê Trọng Trải, Karen Phillipps; Nhà Xuất Bản Lao Động - Xã Hội, 2000
Danh Lục Các Loài Chim ở Việt Nam (Latinh, Việt, Pháp, Hán) Trần Văn Chánh 2008-2009
Chinese Birds (A Tentative List of Chinese Birds) 中國鳥類（中國鳥類目錄試編） N. Gist Gee, Lacy I. Moffett, G. D. Wilder (祁天錫, 慕維德, 萬卓志), Peiping, 1927 (reprinted 1948)
御製五體清文鑒 yùzhì wǔtǐ qīngwén jiàn Mongolian: Хааны бичсэн таван зүилийн үсгээр хавсарсан манж үгний толь бичиг khaani bichsen tavaŋ züiliŋ üsgeer khavsarsaŋ maŋj ügni tol' bichig Mirror of the Manchu language with an overview of five different languages, compiled by the Emperor OR Imperial Pentaglot Manchu Mirror, originally published in 1805.