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The Evolution of a Species-Specific Term: Old Indic Krauñcaḥ (Grus grus)

Niels Hammer

Pages 395 - 408


The emergence in a language of a species-specific term is determined by the morphology and ethology of the species. In Old Indic the onomatopoietic term krauñcaḥ originally designated the Eurasian Crane (Grus grus) like the term kraneche did in Middle German, garan in Welsh and trani in Old Norse, whereas PIE *ger- and its derivatives in Baltic and Russian designated the Demoiselle Crane. When the Indo-Aryan speaking tribes entered the Pañjāb area they used the familiar term krauñcaḥ as a reference to denominate new comparable species; but the IA-speaking tribes' knowledge of the ethology of Eurasian Cranes is not easily discernible in Old Indic; however, assuming a common PIE background five different traits can be seen in early Greek sources, and these traits reappeared later in the well-known veneration for Sārus Cranes (Grus antigone) in India. The term krauñcaḥ was in Old Indic connected with the sound of the call and not with any other trait so it came naturally also to designate the Sārus Crane, whose call closely resembles that of the Eurasian Crane; but familiarity with the morphological and ethological differences between them caused krauñcaḥ to revert to its original meaning, the Eurasian Crane and the indigenous Sārus Crane to be called sārasaḥ. The term krauñcaḥ thus displays a development from monosemy to polysemy and then back to monosemy, determined by the knowledge the IA-speaking tribes gradually gathered about the morphology and ethology of Eurasian Cranes and related or comparable species in Pañjāb area.

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