Shabby Latin

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Thu Dec 19 09:06:36 CST 1996

David Boufford's comments re: the resources available to taxonomists at
smaller institutions in many parts of the world are well taken.  We at major
museums and large research universities take for granted many things that
colleagues at smaller institutions have a hard time getting.

But in the case at hand, there is really only *one* resource that would have
been necessary for a passable Latin diagnosis to have been written: a
Chinese-Latin dictionary.  I am reliably informed that such dictionaries do
exist, and it doesn't seem like something that would be inaccessible at even
a small institution.  We weren't asking that the researcher sequence DNA or
run gel electrophoresis or examine protologues of 300 previously published
names in Amorphophallus or borrow their types.  Merely that he or she
consult a dictionary.

Putting myself in the researcher's shoes, I know I would have great
difficulty writing a Chinese diagnosis armed with an English-Chinese
dictionary.  But I would exert every effort to at least make sure it was
alkl in Chinese, and not partly in Korean or Japanese.  (I know, it's not an
exact analogy, due to the different character systems).

Another consideration: if an institution is so small as to lack a basic tool
like a Latin dictionary, is it perhaps also so small that a researcher would
have difficulty determining if a specimen indeed represented a new taxon?
Would not the references and comparative material necessary to describe a
new species also be lacking?  I don't want to start a big-instution vs.
little-institution flame war.  But if we are asked to be tolerant in our
judgment because a researcher lacks such a basic tool, it's a reasonable
question to pose.

I think the best solution is to accept the diagnosis as fulfilling the
requirements of the Code, and then for those of us who are in a position to
help out with such things to resolve to keep our eyes open for opportunities
to help make sure something like this doesn't slip through again.  There are
a number of people in the community who over the years have been more than
generous in sharing their expertise with Latin.  I think that more of us
need to brush up on the Noble Tongue, so that we can offer help to those who
have even more trouble with it than we do.

Thomas G. Lammers                                       lammers at
Department of Botany
Center for Evolutionary and Environmental Biology
Field Museum of Natural History
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

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