Another horse-flogging on latin pronunciation

Harvey E. Ballard, Jr. hballard at STUDENTS.WISC.EDU
Tue Dec 12 09:02:28 CST 1995

While I was conducting field work for violets in western Europe and
herbarium work for South American types in several major herbaria there this
summer, I met with innumerable difficulties in pronouncing latin names with
an "American" accent and pronunciation.  When I pronounced each scientific
name with the pronunciation that a german native or a french native or a
british native would pronounce nouns and verbs (not necessarily classical
latin in pronunciation, I point out), then folks understood me immediately
as to what species I was referring.  Indeed, many people were never even able to
understand my own name to connect it with me, until I pronounced MY OWN NAME
according to the vowel and consonant pronunciation of french, german and
british.  A french swiss botanist did not understand who I was on the phone
until I said that I was [phonetically] "Ayrvay"--and then he realized who I
was instantly.  And so it went, both with scientific names of plants and
with names of people.  And--I'll say it again--most names that we pronounced
were not generally in perfect accord with classical latin pronunciation,
although french and german pronunciation of the names were closer to the
classical than we commonly approach here in the U.S.

There, I've added my two whacks to the quivering horse corpse.  Are we
having fun yet?  Can we think of other, more interesting diatribes?

My best,
Harvey Ballard
Harvey E. Ballard, Jr.
Botany Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison
132 Birge, 430 Lincoln Drive, Madison WI 53706 USA
(608) 262-2792 (herbarium office); fax: (608) 262-7509

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