"English" Latin pronunciation; Latin descriptions

Robert Mill R.Mill at RBGE.ORG.UK
Wed Dec 13 18:28:47 CST 1995

A few points:

1. There are three varieties of spoken Latin used in Britain:
   a. church Latin
   b. "traditional British" Latin pronunciation
   c. "Received Academic" Latin pronunciation (sometimes called
Reformed Academic or Restored Academic).
All have their different "rules" of pronunciation.

I once took part in a botanical tour to Spain led by the late John
Wesley Carr, a classicist who used Received Academic. I vividly
remember him reprimanding me in no uncertain terms, when I pronounced
the generic name of the hounds-tongue (Cynoglossum), "It is NOT SI-NO-
GLOSSUM, Robert, but KU-NO-GLOSSUM" (The Ku being pronounced with a
strong German umlaut). From that time on in the tour I used
Kunoglossum when speaking to him and "Sinoglossum" to everyone else,
which is what they all understood. Moral: try and establish what
version of spoken Latin your colleague speaks and try to emulate
him/her in his/her company as closely as possible. E.g., I use "Bor-
adge-in-ay-see" to British English speakers, but "Bor-ag-in-atsy" or
"Bor-azh-in-atsy" to most Europeans because that, or an approximation
of it, is what they seem to understand.

2. Most Taxacomers may not be aware of a short paper entitled
"Botanical Pronunciation - Eleven Rough Guides" by Sean Edwards of
The Manchester Museum, Manchester University, Manchester M1 3PL,
England. The article was published in BSBI News no. 69: 43-45. April
1995. It is based on a handout Sean gives out each year to botany
students. BSBI News is the twice-yearly Newsletter of the Botanical
Society of the British Isles. The article gives examples of some of
the common pitfalls with pronunciations mostly in "traditional
British" style but with "Reformed Academic" also indicated where
appropriate. It has some amusing comments such as "Pinus is
invariably politely pronounced Pie'nus". Some of the traditional
pronunciations are a little odd to my ears as a Scot, e.g. for Daucus
I would never put in an intrusive r ("Dor'kus") as suggested, but
that is because I am a Scot and do not use the intrusive r of many
southern English speakers.

3. We would probably be better off accepting that one's pronunciation
of Latin will vary according to the accents and constraints of one's
native tongue, and accept that Latin will sound differently when
spoken by a Russian, an American, a French person, a Spaniard, a
Chinese, a Nigerian and so on, just as English is also pronounced in
different ways by the same people, and their languages are in turn
pronounced or mispronounced by us in many different ways. We do
our best to adjust to our foreign colleagues' pronunciation of
English and we should do the same with botanical Latin. Maybe then we
could get down to more serious things, like improving the accuracy of
the Latin in our published new descriptions.

On the latter subject, one or two points to note as a result of me
refereeing numerous Latin descriptions for various journals. Apart
from authors not following the rules of Latin grammar and ensuring
that adjectives agree with their noun in number, gender and case
(it's surprising how many people seem to forget this), there are a
few errors that crop up repeatedly, even when someone has been
acknowledged for checking or preparing the Latin. A couple of
examples --

a. Third declension ablative plurals: a very common error is to use
"-is" when the word should end in "-ibus" (3rd declension noun or
Group B adjective), or "-ibus" when "-is" is the correct ending (1st
or 2nd declension nouns, or Group A adjectives). The only way is to
learn your Latin and/or use a dictionary to find out which group a
word belongs, then use the appropriate ending. Also applies less
commonly to genitive plurals.

b. Authors often forget to decline generic and/or specific names in
diagnoses even if the rest of the diagnosis is absolutely perfect.

"Related to Vespa but ..." = "Vespae affinis sed ..." (Vespa dative:
TO  Vespa). (Similis also takes dative: "Camelliae similis sed ...")

"From all species of Ranunculus ..." = "Ab omnibus species Ranunculi"
(Ranunculus genitive: OF Ranunculus)

"Among Hyoscyamus" = "Inter Hyoscyamum" (Hyoscyamus accusative
because inter takes the accusative). And so on ...

Some species names and a few genus names do not decline, usually
honorifics already in the genitive e.g. bloggsii, habitat epithets
like alpicola, saxicola, compound words like uva-ursi, and vernacular
or "nonsense" names e.g. mombin (Spondias mombin).

c. Some authors wrongly use "parvior" and declined variations on the
theme, instead of "minor" etc., obviously forgetting that parvus is
one of the few Latin words with an irregular comparative and
superlative (parvus, minor, minimus - not parvior, parvissimus).
Others I can think of are "bene, melior, optimus" (haven't yet seen
"benior" but no doubt I will one day!); "magnus, maior/major,
maximus" (I have seen magniores etc!).

I hope that highlighting these common pitfalls might help authors a
little in the preparation of their descriptions.

Robert Mill

      (Dr) ROBERT R MILL
      Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
      20a Inverleith Row, EDINBURGH EH3 5LR, SCOTLAND, U.K.

      Electronic Mail:   R.Mill at rbge.org.uk OR robert at rbge.org.uk
      Telephone:         + 44 131 552 7171 exts. 240 or 449
      Facsimile:         + 44 131 552 0382


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