A new and ambitious working group, Indigenous Names for South African Birds (INSAB), has been established to produce a list of bird names in traditional South African languages. This will help a broader sector of South Africans to appreciate and conserve our birds and their habitats.
The names you will be familiar with in bird books, e.g. Cape Rockjumper, did not evolve naturally. They were standardised at some point in the past, and the process is ongoing as taxonomic updates continue to frustrate birders. The standardisation is now done at international level for languages such as English, French, and Spanish. Locally, the Afrikaans Voëlnaamgroep (Bird Name Group) standardised the regional list of Afrikaans bird names.
For the other languages, generic names for a lot of bird groups exist, but almost no species-specific names exist. Various linguists have recorded traditional names, but more for language studies than really to standardise the names. Most young speakers of African languages do not know the names of birds in their own language. This could lead to names being lost as time goes by, which makes the mandate of this new committee an urgent one.
Building on the work of the broader African Bird Names Group, the INSAB will bring together and facilitate people doing research on bird names, ornithologists, linguists, and, most importantly, those birders traditionally speaking the languages. In this way, each species name should reflect the language and culture of the people that speak these as home languages. There are opportunities for researchers to publish books and research articles for those wishing to get involved.