"A Thesaurus of Bird Names" is the result of long years of dedication by its author Michel Desfayes - more than 40 years of his life, including nearly ten years of his professional life. Since his childhood when he learned from older people the names of birds in the local dialect of his native village, the inquisitive lad wondered about the origin of those names. The etymologies he found in dictionaries were at first noted and accepted with some reserve, but later often left him unsatisfied. Doubts set in, and this is reflected in the quotations at the beginning of the present book's introduction.

During his first bird trips and later during his expeditions, his travels and readings, the author collected on the source the names given to the birds in the local speeches. As an amateur naturalist, he set about to bring those names together, to compare them, and at the same time extending his quest to include other languages of Europe, the Middle East and even Latin America. During his eleven years as a professional ornithologist at the Smithsonian Institution, he pored over the almost inexhaustible bibliographical resources of the Library of Congress in order to gain access to the many local publications on the dialects of the languages he covered in his research.

He then tried to construct lexical relationships and classify words so as to see the links that exist between the characteristics of animal or things and their denominations. The result was a collection of thousands of files and eventually a manuscript of 2500 pages, with the intent to make this work available to interested researchers. Since 1980 in the Valais, thanks to various sponsors, we have been able to store this enormous repertory on computer. La Murithienne Society, the Foundation Dr. Ignace Mariétan, the State of Valais through the Council of Culture and the State museums, the Loterie de la Suisse romande, the Swiss society for the study and protection of birds "Nos Oiseaux", and the Swiss Academy of Sciences, have supported the preparation of the data base so constituted, and its diffusion. Let us not forget that twenty years ago it was not technically simple to deal with such a mass of data by means of computers. The constitution of this data base got on way thanks to the interest and commitment of Mr. Jean-Marie Rouiller of Epsitec System and Smaky computers in Lausanne.

We are altogether aware that Michel Desfayes' work, despite its magnitude and wealth of information remains a grouping of topics which deserve further research. Rarely has a project been presented with so many terms and so little wording. We are, however, convinced that this publication will be of interest to many researchers in the family of sciences dealing not only with the study of languages and their interrelationships, but also with the disciplines concerned with the long and ongoing studies of the links between man and nature, as well as with ornithology and the natural sciences. Above all, the author has saved from obscurity thousands of words dispersed in local publications of difficult access.

The distinction of the origin of words into chromatic, acoustic, morphological and kinetic categories is an innovation that greatly facilitates research into the semantic value of terms. It is here, we believe, that lies the principal contribution from the author to the quest for the origin of words. The paradigms he has elaborated are a new presentation revealing that the relationships of many European terms go back well beyond Latin and Greek.

His propositions concerning the origin and meaning of so many terms compiled in some fourty languages are at times original and, from their logic, stand apart from the dogma of specialists. These propositions are not the only aspect of Michel Desfayes' work, and should not keep specialists from drawing generously on this huge lexical collection. The State museums and the Murithienne Society have endeavored to put this rich vocabulary at the disposal of researchers by means of this publication and a soon-to-be-released illustrated CD-Rom.

Jean-Claude Praz

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