The power of communication

English is a probably the most widely spread language of the world and has a significant part in the daily life of many young Swiss. As such, I was able to speak the language fluently and well before my arrival in Australia. Still, there is nothing better to improve speaking and writing while learning from native speakers and I am picking up a few words here and there, as well as sometimes struggling with some Aussie slang.

One importance of this language is shown in the unifying value it has for smaller, internationally connected interest groups. Birding (or bird watching) is a worldwide interest, from the scientific ornithology to the sometimes quite obsessed birding and twitching to the more recreational and relaxed bird watching. There are probably birders in all countries of this world and English is clearly the language to communicate and connect with each other. There are some specially created or adapted words, three of which I have used already: Birding, birders and twitching.

As the United Kingdom is kind of the motherland of birding and it is a very popular activity in most countries predominately speaking English, the choice of a common language was predestined. Even in the German language region, some English words are used, whereas other have a direct translation into German. Some examples are “a lifer” (bird species never seen before) or “Büsche klopfen” (from “beat bushes”, looking for small, notoriously difficult to find and identify birds in shrubs, often an LBB, little brown bird).

Some words have been completely adapted and are to my knowledge not used in this meaning in any other way, such as jizz, dipping, ticking and go naked. “Jizz” (from General Impression and Shape: GIS) describes the general look of a bird, something that is hard to put in words, but becomes familiar with time and allows identifying birds that are very distant or in view for a very short time. It is like picking out an old friend from a crowd: You know it’s them but cannot quite describe why so. “Ticking” describes finding a particular bird or a lifer and being able to add it to the personal list. It is the contrary to “dipping”: Trying to find a particular bird that has been reported earlier from the same area, and not seeing it. Finally, “go naked” describes having to go to a place without binoculars, for example because of strict custom.

The power of the birding language is so strong that it is pushing into activities with wildlife other than birds. Whereas the herpers, people looking for Reptiles and Amphibians, do have their own words as well, most other groups are still too small to form specifically dedicated words and adapt words from the birding community.

These rather few but very precise words allow many people with very limited English knowledge to work as bird guides around the world. If your client wants to see a lifer, you better make sure they are not dipping, but rather ticking this bird, even if it means beating some bushes!

This international language that is closely linked to English, but definitely also adapted and changed to reflect gaps in the language had some benefits for me in Australia: I never had problems communicating with local birders. From day one, it was clear what both sides were talking about, which makes communication in the field efficient and quick. It was also a way to let Australian birders know that this Swiss enthusiast is familiar with the concept of birding and it was immediately assumed that I am not a beginner (at least not everywhere on the planet…).

Only a global language can have impacts like that and even a few words can change the way people can interact with each other. The power of communication!

Valentin Moser

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