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Etymology of Sanskrit Kokiláḥ (Eudynamys scolopacea): A Bird's-Eye View

Pages 143 - 152


Some onomatopoetic terms for birds may be so distinct that the term expressing the call or the song is species-specific. A typical case is the Eurasian Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), where the term ‘cuckoo’ naturally like Latin cucūlus, Greek κόκκυξ, Old Irish cūach, is derived from Proto-Indo-European *kukū; but the Sanskrit term Kokiláḥ for the Indian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea, Hindi Koel, Kuyil) is also assumed to have been derived from Proto-Indo-European *kukū; though this would be a transference of the term to another and quite different species. This derivation disregards that the Cuckoo's call is characterised by the close back or high back rounded vowel /u/ and the Koel's by the close front rounded vowel /y/ or the near-close near-front rounded vowel /Y/, and that the Koel is much larger than the Cuckoo and coal black. Kokiláḥ is in all probability derived from an autochthonous Dravidian or Austroasiatic language such as Kannada Kukil, Tamil Kuyil, or Santali koya, kuyạ ‘black, smirched,’ and kuilạ ‘black, dark-skinned, charcoal’ from Proto-Munda *ko(y)ila. This etymology is strengthened by behaviouristic and distributive considerations.


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