Senior journalist
2 minute read

Project to get SA’s birds named in all 12 official languages

By Chris Ndaliso

The challenge involves ensuring that all South Africa's birds get names in all the 12 official languages.

The Black-winged kite bird wthat survived a close call with death.
A file image of a Black-winged kite bird. Poto: Supplied

Birdlife South Africa and Birda, a global social birding app, have joined forces to create a heritage-inspired birding challenge for Heritage Month this September.

The challenge involves ensuring that all South Africa’s birds get names in all the 12 official languages, in the hope that identifying birds in one’s mother tongue will foster a deeper connection to birding and nature conservation.

BirdLife South Africa is the partner of BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, by working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.

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Birda co-founder and CEO John White invited people across the globe to join the South African names for South African birds (Sansab) heritage challenge by downloading the free Birda app, and log 12 bird species (one for every South African official language) during September.

I was born and raised in South Africa, so it was very easy for me to understand the importance of creating names for every bird species in all South African languages. Names are one of the first steps to building connections. Sansab is a great project and a big part of Birda’s mission is to help people protect and enjoy the birdlife around them.

“Help us create a future where all South African children have names for the birds around them,” said White, who is also a keen birdwatcher.

The initiative was borne out of the realisation that in our culturally rich and diverse country, a complete list of names for all birds does not exist in all 12 official languages.

Sansab and BirdLife South Africa are working with linguists, ornithologists, and birders who speak these languages to come up with lists of bird names, and, where there are gaps in the lists, to workshop species names that reflect not only the languages and the birds’ characteristics, but also the culture of the people who speak that language.

A list of bird names was completed last year for South Africa’s most widely spoken first language, isiZulu, which was a major milestone.

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BirdLife South Africa’s Nandi Thobela said: “A lack of vernacular names was a serious language barrier for isiZulu speakers wanting to get involved in anything related to birds, whether that is casual birdwatching, environmental education, conservation or academic study.

Not having a name for a bird in your mother tongue also creates a degree of separation from nature. I run environmental education and awareness projects in several communities in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, and Mpumalanga provinces, and these names will be important in getting the message across about the importance of conserving birds and the environment to children and all persons involved.