Saturday, December 15, 2012

Words for Animals Not Native to Tai Lands: The Giraffe

When an animal from a foreign land is introduced to a new country, the people native to the new land will have to give it a name in their language. They have two options: they will either have to use the same word that the people who are bringing it there are already using, or they will have to come up with a new name. From analyzing three Southwestern Tai languages namely, Thai, Lao, and Shan, I found that these languages have gone different paths in choosing new names for foreign animals. 

Today we are looking at the giraffe, the long necked animal native to Africa.

Photo:Luca Galuzzi -

In Thai, the word is ยีราฟ yii.ráap (spelled yii.raaf), Lao ກວາງຄໍຍາວ (กวางคอยาว) kwàaŋ.kʰɔ́ɔ.ɲáaw "long necked deer" or ມ້າລາຍຄໍຍາວ (ม้าลายคอยาว) mâa.láai.kʰɔ́ɔ.ɲáaw "long necked zebra", and Shan ၵလႃးဢုၵ်ႉၶေႃးယၢဝ်း  (กลาอุ้กคอยาว, กุลาอูฐคอยาว) "long necked camel". 

Apparently, the Thai word is a direct loanword possibly from English, whereas Lao and Shan use a compound. Lao and Shan seem to have translated "giraffe" as a "long necked" animal that is either a deer, a zebra, or a camel". Interestingly, the Chinese word for giraffe is 长颈鹿 chángjǐnglù which literally means "long-necked deer". So, it seems like the Laos and the Shans may have got the idea from the Chinese. (Cf. Vietnamese hươu cao cổ "long necked deer".)

What is interesting to me is the fact that the Shans use "camel" instead of "deer". The Latin word for giraffe is camelopardalis which literally means "camel leopard". The Burmese word is သစ်ကုလားအုတ် thi' kalaou' "leopard camel". Apparently, the Burmese seem to have calqued the word from LatinSo the question that I have now is: Did the Shans get "camel" from Latin, or did they get it from Burmese? What we seem to know from analyzing these words is that apparently the Shans were both influenced by Chinese and/or Lao and Burmese. In particular, they seem to have got "camel" from Latin possibly via Burmese, and the construction "long necked + (animal)" from either Chinese or Lao (who themselves may have got it from the Chinese).


khunsar said...

ပၢၼ်မႂ်ႇမႃးၼႆႉ ပိူၼ်ႈၶိုၼ်းမႄးတႅမ်ႈဝႃႈ ၵလႃးဢုၵ်ႉၶေႃးယၢဝ်းၼႆႉ ပဵၼ် ယီးလၢႆးၶေႃးယၢဝ်း

Now Giraffe is changed into Yee Lai Kaw Yao.

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