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  • The History of Faunal Terms in Austronesian Languages
  • Robert Blust

This paper offers an overview of reconstructed faunal terms primarily at the Proto-Austronesian, Proto-Malayo-Polynesian, and Proto-Western Malayo-Polynesian levels, with some additional reconstructions at lower levels in the Austronesian family tree. The basic division is into domesticated vs. nondo-mesticated animals, and within the latter category there is a further breakdown into mammals (22 terms), birds (29 terms), reptiles and amphibians (14 terms), creepy-crawly creatures (68 terms), fish (97 terms), and marine invertebrates (41 terms), for a total of 277 etyma, most of which represent protolanguages spoken no later than about 4000 B. P. Among the more important new insights reported here is the discovery that the PMP word for 'bird' (*manu-manuk) almost certainly was derived from the word for 'chicken' (*manuk) by reduplication, a development that is fundamentally at odds with the "life-form encoding sequence" proposed by Cecil H. Brown (Language and living things: Uniformities in folk classification and naming, Rutgers University Press, 1984).


The concept of semantic fields or domains has a fairly long history in linguistics, particularly in connection with linguistic reconstruction. Saussure (1959) credits the Celticist Adolphe Pictet with pioneering the concept of "linguistic paleontology" in his book, Les origines Indo-Européennes (1859-1863), a work that makes implicit use of semantic domains. Much the same tradition in Indo European linguistics is seen in the more recent work of Benveniste (1973). More recently, Pawley and Ross (1994) have applied the label "terminologies" to subsets of the lexicon that exhibit semantic coherence either as a synchronic system of reference or in terms of historical change, or both.

This paper is concerned with the history of faunal terms in Austronesian (AN) languages. Because faunal terminologies form a substantial portion of the lexicon, the discussions that follow will be relatively terse. The basic division is into domesticated vs. nondomesticated animals and in each of these divisions reconstructions will be made primarily at the Proto-Austronesian (PAN), Proto-Malayo-Polynesian (PMP), and Proto-Western Malayo-Polynesian (PWMP) levels, although some additional reconstructions are made for Proto-Philippines (PPH), Proto-Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian (PCEMP), and Proto-Oceanic (POC). Western Malayo-Polynesian may not constitute a subgroup distinct from Malayo-Polynesian, and [End Page 89] where a cognate set is widespread in Western Malayo-Polynesian (WMP) languages it may in fact be evidence for a PMP etymon. Reconstructions are drawn from Blust (in progress), and more recent research. A number of reconstructions for fauna in Dempwolff (1934-1938) have had to be discarded either because the distributional evidence suggests that they were relatively late innovations in western Indonesia (*badak 'rhinoceros', *buruŋ 'bird', *tikus 'rat', *tupay 'squirrel' = 'tree shrew'), or more rarely because the etymology itself is defective (*ba[n]uy 'eagle').

As just noted, most of the data to which attention is drawn here are from non-Oceanic languages. There are several reasons for this choice. First, Proto-Oceanic had few mammal terms in relation to earlier AN protolanguages that were spoken west of the Wallace Line, where a far richer mammalian fauna exists than is true of either eastern Indonesia or the islands of the Pacific. Second, two domains of Oceanic faunal terms have already been covered with considerable thoroughness: birds (Clark 1994), and marine invertebrates (Pawley 1996). Moreover, Geraghty (1994) has done a virtually exhaustive job of documenting fish names in Proto-Central Pacific. This leaves some room for comments on fish names in Proto-Oceanic, and I have taken advantage of this opportunity in a few cases. I have not attempted to be thoroughgoing in filling this gap, however, because it presumably will be filled in the series of volumes initiated by Ross, Pawley, and Osmond (1998).

Although overarching generalizations regarding lexical or semantic change are difficult to make in this domain, particular details of change in many cases suggest the operation of more general principles that will be noted in passing. Moreover, by drawing together fairly complete sets of terms relating to this single domain further comparison and generalization undoubtedly will be facilitated. Finally, in discussing faunal terms the evidence of comparative...