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Orangutans, gibbons and Mr Sooty: what the origins of words in Southeast Asia tell us about our long relationships with animals

By Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan, Research associate, University of Sydney
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Forest creatures include some of humanity’s closest biological relatives. Due to human threats, they are also some of the most endangered animals on our planet.

Southeast Asia hosts many unique forest species, and many of our English words for forest creatures have their origins in Southeast Asian languages. What sound to English speakers like exotic loanwords are meaningful in their original languages.

By exploring the Southeast Asian etymologies of these names, we can understand how humans have maintained relationships of respect and affinity with forest creatures over…


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