Aleut honored in new species names

(originally posted at defunct university blog August 7, 2006)
The NOAA announced the other day that some of their scientists had discovered four species of fish previously unknown to science out in the Aleutians. To honor the natives of that area, the Aleuts (Unangas in their own language), Aleut words were included in the taxonomic names (with the aid of native Aleut speaker Moses Dirks).

  • Allocareproctus unangas
  • Allocareproctus tanix
  • Allocareproctus ungak
  • Lycodes akuugun

With unangas, tanix, ungak, and akuugun meaning ‘(Atkan) Aleut people’, ‘forehead’, ‘whiskers’, and ‘Island of the Four Mountain people’, respectively.

What interests me is this part:

“Dirks, a native speaker and linguist, worked with local elders to see if there were already any Aleut names for this kind of fish, then helped suggest names or offer translations of descriptive terms suggested by NOAA’s scientists.”

Am I missing something, or did the article fail to answer that question? Were there existing Aleut names that the scientists chose not to use and that the article’s writer failed to mention? Or were these fish unknown to the Aleut people as well? The rest of the article implies that these fish were unknown to even the indigenous population. If so, it’s nice that the NOAA scientists chose to include Aleut words in the names. If not, I’d be curious to know why the Aleut names were not used.

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