Most native speakers of Spanish and English have never heard of quokka or the similar but unrelated quagga, each of which has the same form in both languages (though Spanish also respells quagga as cuaga, according to its normal rules of orthography). The two words designate animals, but the animals and the languages their names come from evolved on different continents.
The quokka is an Australian marsupial whose name, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, comes from gwaga, a word in southwest Australia’s Nyungar language, a member of the Pama-Nyungan family.
The quagga was a subspecies of zebra that became extinct in the 1800s. Its name ultimately came from the Khoikhoi word !ua-xa, which the American Heritage Dictionary speculates might have originated as an imitation of the African animal’s braying.
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© 2016 Steven Schwartzman