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New official Checklist of the birds of Germany sparks debate (1 Viewer)

Hauksen

Forum member
Hi Jos,

What's the problem with two-word names?

There's a certain amount of ambiguity because it might not be clear whether an adjective is decriptive or part of the name.

Ironically, we had a thread on English bird names a while ago where I actually praised the advantages of the German compound-noun style names :)

However, I was thinking more along the lines of "it's nice to have, if it occurs naturally", and definitely not along the lines of "and if it doesn't comply, re-name the bird"!

To be honest, if I had to guess what motivates the re-namers, it's probably more convenience in their everyday work since adjectives get declined in German, and that exceeds the capability of MS Office's search function.

I've probably quoted Mark Twain before: "I'd rather decline two German beers than one German verb."

Morgenstern's poem "Der Werwolf" also makes fun of German grammar - though it should properly be un-translatable, I have to admit that I think the attempts on this site convey the spirit pretty well: https://arnoldzwicky.org/2010/07/01/der-werwolf/

Regards,

Henning
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
There's a certain amount of ambiguity because it might not be clear whether an adjective is decriptive or part of the name.

German bird names are with capitals? If so, no need for ambiguity in the written form. And is there really any confusion even when spoken?

It is the same in English - Great Knot, Great Tit, etc - but I think no normal person really gets confused by such names.
 

Hauksen

Forum member
Hi Jos,

German bird names are with capitals?

In Svensson's they are. Anything else - orthography reforms, I don't care anymore.

It is the same in English - Great Knot, Great Tit, etc - but I think no normal person really gets confused by such names.

For practical purposes, you're probably right (disregarding non-native speakers ;-)

The German document doesn't really provide a motivation, it just states:

"Grundsätzlich werden getrennt geschriebene Namen zusammengezogen, was bei einigen Non-Passeriformes bislang noch nicht der Fall war. "

'As a matter of principle, seperately spelled names will be contracted, which so far hadn't been the case for some Non-Passeriformes.'

("Separate Spelling" seems to be some kind of linguistic technical term, according to leo.org. That's of course the "adjective noun" naming pattern.)

Regards,

Henning
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Interesting.. What about in general language, presumably German does have plenty of two-word mojns in other areas? Example, ironing board, Prime Minister, football pitch, etc?
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
I'd just like to mention how great Czech is in this aspect (maybe I'll just motivate all of you linguists to switch to it? :)).

Czech generally follows the "adjective noun" pattern and saying "noun adjective" makes you sound like a lunatic - or a person talking about an animal, because that's how animals are named! So you can easily distinguish talking about "a large woodpecker" from talking about "woodpecker large" (which is greater spotted btw.) and everyone always knows which case it is. Both nouns and adjectives are heavily declined (up to 14 different forms) which is kinda inconvenient for non-native speakers, but it allows us to break word order without losing the meaning (the declination expresses things that English expresses using word order). The main drawback is that Master Yoda is nowhere as fun in translation ...

The only pitfall of the Czech naming system that it looks like the systematic binomial one, but it is never updated, so it's an 18th century ad-hoc systematics and the noun/adjective pairs don't really correspond do genus/species in Latin systematics very well anymore. Also we are so used to two-word names that single-word English names sound very weird to us. Like why is it just "Dunnock", why isn't it "blue accentor"?
 

Maffong

Well-known member
German bird names are with capitals? If so, no need for ambiguity in the written form. And is there really any confusion even when spoken?

It is the same in English - Great Knot, Great Tit, etc - but I think no normal person really gets confused by such names.

No there isn't. I don't think I have ever come across any misunderstandings, it's just too prevalent in the German language.

Interesting.. What about in general language, presumably German does have plenty of two-word mojns in other areas? Example, ironing board, Prime Minister, football pitch, etc?
Your examples don't work: Bügelbrett, Premierminister, Fußballplatz.
However when it comes to size, colour, origin or direction there are lots of examples, which everyone is used to: Weißer Hai (White Shark), Afrikanischer Elefant (African Elephant), Nördlicher Streifenkiwi ('Northern Striped Kiwi'), Großer Abendsegler ('Great' Noctule).
It's also prevalent in everyday German. Weißer Riese, Großer Watzmann, Naher Osten, Mittlerer Westen are just things that spring to mind. Nobody has ever been confused about anything alike.

And yes, there's a big difference between "großer Sturmtaucher" (big Shearwater) and Großer Sturmtaucher ("Great Shearwater"), which even non-naturalists can grasp immediately.

So once again I must express my disdain of these changes

Maffong
 

Maffong

Well-known member
I've just made some calculations. Using the HBW Alive 'Printable checklist' option I created an Excel sheet. This includes the option of also showing the German names (HBW Alive is the only database I know with an easily accessible and complete set of German names)

Of the exactly 2000 names from birds found in Brazil, Ecuador and the US (unfortunately more couldn't be displayed), 50 were compounds with two words in German. Here are some examples
  • Kleines Präriehuhn
  • Brauner Zwergschattenkolibri
  • Östlicher Bunthalskolibri
  • Amerikanisches Blässhuhn
  • Heiliger Ibis

For the first 2000 names from Australia, India, Indonesia I get 37 compounds. These include:
  • Weißer Ohrfasan
  • Westliche Prachtfruchttaube
  • Großer Adjutant
  • Indischer Scherenschnabel
  • Australische Rohrdommel

For Israel, Kenya, South Africa (1664 species) I get 25 compounds, including
  • Nubischer Ziegenmelker
  • Schwarzer Austernfischer
  • Kleines Sumpfhuhn
  • Nördlicher Rotschnabeltoko

Now, this would mean an average of 39 compound names per 2000 species or almost 2% per cent of the names. Of the 10980 species in HBW Alive I calculate that around 215 species names would need to be changed by a committee, that proposed most of these names themselves, that are easily translatable from and to the english names, that cause no confusion and that bear valuable information.

There are several examples of recent name changes in the German list that fall short of these qualities:
Anadyrknutt: Even though I have a fair grasp of geography I have absolutely no idea where or what the Anadyr is. My guess is that it's some river or region in Siberia, but that doesn't really help me as almost all palearctic waders breed in Siberia. Großer Knutt (Great Knot), however was easily translatable, memorisable and bore an easily visible identification character with it: It's bigger than our Red Knot.

Gelbschenkel: To me this will always intuitively be the Greater Yellowlegs, but it's the Lesser Yellowlegs. This makes sense when you take the scientific name into account, however there are so few people here in Germany that know just ANYthing about these names... Greater Yellowlegs on the other hand is now Tüpfelgelbschenkel, a name which I constantly mess up with Tüpfelgrünschenkel (Nordmann's Greenshank). The reference to it's size was much more helpful than to it's breeding plumage, which I'll likely never get to see and which doesn't really differ all that much from Lesser Yellowlegs.

I could go on and on, but you get the concept...

Maffong
 

dalat

...
You have to much time Maffong, better go birding3:)

Btw., avibase is also a good source to get German (and other language) bird names...
 

Hauksen

Forum member
Hi Jan,

Indigo Bunting and all other in genus Passerina. Don't ask my why, Czech names have been created mostly during the "National Revival" period in 18th/19th century when the modern Czech was formed as a rebellion against the predominantly German-language Austrian government that ruled over the land until WWI.

Ah, thanks - quite an interesting bit of European history! :) "Linguistic defiance" really appears to be a recurring cultural effect - Napoleon seems to have triggered it in several of the countries he occupied.

Regards,

Henning
 

Sangahyando

Well-known member
If we did then no doubt there would be confusion over why there aren't any spots on the yellow legs.... 3:)

John
The entire renaming thing is a project by authoritarian, bureaucratic minds who can't leave well alone. It's the same thing with our education system (anything from pre-school to university), every few years there's someone with a bright idea that really needs implementing, and all of the students have to adapt somehow.
 

jurek

Well-known member
The entire renaming thing is a project by authoritarian, bureaucratic minds who can't leave well alone.

I would be less harsh.

But it is true that standarizing local names serves no real purpose, because scientific names are in common use. Nor any ornithologist or group of ornithologists has such authority, nor power to enforce it. And making many arbitrary lists of bird names is a form of mild pollution of science by non-science topics (names of birds are not discovered but invented).

There is absolutely no reason not to ignore standarization of names, and in one ornithological journal, one article may call Bullfinch "Dompfaff" and another "Gimpel". Why not? Switching between two names of a common thing is normal in everyday speech, actually promoted as it makes a text less boring. In any case, there are only 2 or at most 3 names in common use. Not like 150 years ago where every province had different dialect.

The most useful thing, actually, would be a dictionary of currently used variants of bird names, not another pseudo-official list of bird names.

Changes of bird names are part of a normal cultural process of evolution of language. So it might be an interesting linguistic study, to track changes of bird names and ehich variants are in most common use.
 
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Maffong

Well-known member
I think a list of names for the birds of the world is neat, not something that I'd use often, but I know som people who do, as does the general public and media. Creating new names for tropical species is completely okay to me. But a) changing long standing names in europe should not be affected by this IMHO and b) the same committee has already prposed hundreds of compound names (see above) for HBW. Why do they feel the need to change those same names, that they proposed themselves?
 

Nutcracker

Stop Brexit!
But it is true that standarizing local names serves no real purpose, because scientific names are in common use.
Regrettably, at least in UK (and probably other English-speaking areas), scientific names are not in common use - most people here will look at you blankly and say they've no idea what species you mean. It is a strange mental block (considering how readily kids can rattle off long dinosaur scientific names), but very real all the same.

So standardising with taxonomically accurate English names (and perhaps for other languages too) is a good idea.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Regrettably, at least in UK (and probably other English-speaking areas), scientific names are not in common use - most people here will look at you blankly and say they've no idea what species you mean. It is a strange mental block (considering how readily kids can rattle off long dinosaur scientific names), but very real all the same.

So standardising with taxonomically accurate English names (and perhaps for other languages too) is a good idea.

The only time I ever use scientific names, is on the rare occasion when I meet foreign birders who don't know English names and even then, my knowledge is limited to Europe and a few Americans species.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Regrettably, at least in UK (and probably other English-speaking areas), scientific names are not in common use - most people here will look at you blankly and say they've no idea what species you mean. It is a strange mental block (considering how readily kids can rattle off long dinosaur scientific names), but very real all the same.

I see nothing strange - I would say it is the case in every English speaking country, and in my experience, most countries using other languages too. Yes, I can think of quite some countries where many birders do know scientific names, but even in these I would not say they are in common use. And certainly not among the greater population with a general interest in birds.

And let's face it, why should a birder, be they in Germany, the UK or any other country, use a scientific name when perfectly good names exist in their own language. No strange mental block.


So standardising with taxonomically accurate English names (and perhaps for other languages too) is a good idea.

Strange mental block. If kids can readily rattle off long dinosaur scientific names, I am sure it is not beyond their ability to remember a Grey Phalarope in the UK is a Red Phalarope in the US, etc.

And don't I recall you repeatedly moaning about the use of American names on ebird or whatever? So what would standardizing be in your book, the imposition of British names for the entire English-speaking world?
 

Nutcracker

Stop Brexit!
So standardising with taxonomically accurate English names (and perhaps for other languages too) is a good idea.

So what would standardizing be in your book ...
Direct equivalence between scientific genus / family names, and english genus / family names. So e.g. only species of Passeridae would be called sparrows; if something was called a sparrow, you could have the confidence to know the bird involved is (as the human brain expects) closely related to another bird also called a sparrow.
 
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