HORSES AND KANGAROOS
There's a commonly repeated myth that the word kangaroo comes from a Guugu Yimithirr (an Aboriginal language) word meaning "I don't understand" because the Aborigines allegedly didn't know what the Europeans were saying when they asked the name of the marsupial. However, that's widely regarded as incorrect; they did understand what was going on and responded with gangurru, their word for the Macropus robustus subspecies, which the English mistakenly interpreted to refer to all kangaroos. Most other languages in Guugu Yimithirr's family also had that term, and it probably comes from a similar-sounding root in Proto-Pama-Nyungan, although no reconstruction work has been done on it. An interesting thing that happened is that the Paakantyi language, which didn't have gangurru in its vocabulary, borrowed kangaroo from English as baagandji, meaning "horse".
5/24/2022 12:17:00 am
Accidental slip here I think. Baagandji isn’t the Paakantyi word taken from ‘kangaroo’, it’s an alternative rendering of ‘Paakantyi’, the name of the language itself (which doesn’t distinguish voices vs unvoiced consonants the same way, so that there are unvoiced and voiced transliteration conventions)
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.