Berigora: a word that clawed on — from where?

The challenge

Brown falcon drawing
Brown falcon  © J.N. Davies from Birdata

‘Australia’s Most Widespread’ bird, according to Birdata’s featured bird last week, is the Brown Falcon, Falco berigora. A few months ago, a ‘complete guide to the origin of Australian bird names’ (that is, English and Linnæan names), was published, and in it Fraser and Gray (2013:80) summarised the published information on this species name:

berigora [is] stated in many places to be the name for the bird in an indigenous language, though nobody appears willing to nominate a particular language. The original namers, Vigors and Horsfield (1827), simply said: ‘The native name of this bird, which we have adopted as its specific name, is Berigora’. Gould (1848) mentioned ‘Aborigines of New South Wales’ against the word, and Morris (1898), in his Dictionary of Austral English, claimed it is made up of beri, claw, and gora, long. The word does not appear in a glossary of the languages spoken by indigenous people of the Sydney region as the time of early white settlement (Troy 1994), though many other bird names do, and the bird was certainly to be found there. Are the claws longer than those of other falcons? Perhaps not, and indeed, the toes, according to Debus (2012:131), are shorter.

Actually Falco berigora Vigors and Horsfield 1827:184-5 is one of only three birds whose scientific (Linnæan) name draws on a word of an Australian language.1 The word berigora has managed to survive in this ornithological niche, and is now guaranteed as much as longevity as science can offer. But can we give due credit to the language which provided it?

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Notes

  1. The other two are Ninox boobook, Latham 1801:64, Southern Boobook owl, and Petroica (Muscicapa) boodang Lesson 1837:322, Scarlet Robin, each using the name that is well attested in the Sydney Language.

The living archive of Aboriginal languages – call for expressions of interest

CALL FOR EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST DEVELOP A USER-FRIENDLY SEARCH INTERFACE AND TOUCHPAD APP FOR A DIGITAL ARCHIVE OF LITERATURE IN ABORIGINAL LANGUAGES THE LIVING ARCHIVE PROJECT Submission date: 30 April 2012 During the era of bilingual education in the NT, books were produced in 25 Literature Production Centres in more than 16 languages. These materials … Read more

Hopes and dreams

On Thursday I had an interesting time in a sleek-looking conference room at Parliament House with the House of Representatives Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities. The terms of inquiry cover learning English and learning Indigenous languages. Lots of people have put lots of time and thought into their submissions and appearances (available online). They are a fascinating snapshot of current concerns, hopes and dreams. (A couple contain not-so-subtle touting – gimme a gazillion and I’ll solve literacy/attendance/savethelanguage, but they’re the exception).

So I was answering questions about my submission [.pdf] on language learning in Indigenous communities. Here goes with points that I wanted to make, and then what I remember of questions asked by the Committee:

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