Language of description

Paul L.Th. Beuk beuk at BIO.UVA.NL
Wed Oct 25 16:54:57 CDT 1995

Mike Ivie wrote (25/10/1995):

>I know no interesting zoologist who can write eloquently in Latin, and
>I doubt that I want to.

I do not see the point either to go back to Latin. Even though Vid Strpic -
Martin (25/10/95) wrote:

>If we forget latin, who in the next century will understand Linne's (and
>other old) descriptions ? Let's don't make taxonomists cripples!

Take one of Linnaeus' descriptions of insects and you can find at least a
dozen species that fit the description. Likewise with many of the other old
description. Only late last century and early this century a few
entomologists (dipterists) provided more or less useful descriptions in
Latin. Others had already found out that using the local lingo made things
much more accesible (e.g. Meigen in the 1820-30's) but to comply with the
rules of the time many even then included a short Latin description.

But that does not mean I will agree to the use of the any languange for
description. Mike Ivie wrote:

>let people write in the language they choose, and let us learn to understand
>them.  Most will write in English by choice, but I would rather read a
>good description in Swahili than a bad one in any language.  The inconvience
>is just too small in reality to destroy good writing in science.  If
>you have a large body of literature in any one language, learn to read
>it.  If it is the odd article, use a dictionary or ask for a translation.

Let Mike try to deal with a revision of a group of taxa occurring in China,
Japan, Korea, etc. and start translating 'the odd article' from that area
in the local language using a dictionary. This takes a lot of time (and I
mean a LOT) and at the same time you can only guess whether you have the
correct translation. And what about Arabic?
Moreover, with some of the old federal states (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia)
fragmenting you get many more languages people want to publish in. If you
can master all those languages you certainly will learn a lot about the
world but I doubt that you will find any time to do some serious scientific
A single 'scientific' language would be useful but is by no means
necessary. I probably can handle the more widespread 'European' languages
(English, French, German, Italian, Spanish). At least there will be good
dictionaries available if I need them and I will know how to use them.

Paul Beuk
Zoological Museum Amsterdam
beuk at

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