Monday, March 26, 2007

A lemur by any other name

Over coffee with the Codebreakers this morning, we got on to the subject of lemurs. As you do.

One of the most famous kinds of lemurs is the indri lemur. Scientists are always setting up camp in Madagascar to study them. Locals guide them through the jungle, point up at the lemurs and say "indri, indri".

It turns out that indri is not the Malagasy name of the lemur. Indri actually means 'Look! Up there!'


Anonymous said...


Should you feel the need to trump Mr C's definition; you can mention that the Malagasy name for the animal is in fact babakoto. (See Shorter Oxford English Dictionary definitions of indri and sifaka.)

By the way raffia is the commonest English word derived from Malagasy.

Orlaith said...

Thanks - I love this stuff!

Just popping in for coffee now. My spidey senses tell me that any attempt to trump will backfire, so I will mention it with humility :)

Orlaith said...

And so began a conversation on Malagasy dialects, which was on the one-sided side.

Babakoto seems to be what the lemur is called in the Betsimisaraka dialect (I think; the name of the other dialect sounded like Hoover but I'm sure the vacuum cleaner wasn't invented there).

I got out both volumes of the Shorter OED during our conversation, but by then we had moved on to the puzzle 'what does an orchid and an avocado have in common?'. The answer would seem to be testicles.

My brain hurts.

Anonymous said...

The language of Imerina is Hova so that would be the dialect...

Orlaith said...

Hova! That makes sense; the 'o' is pronounced as 'u' right?

Thanks for the clarification :)