Dump Latin!

Curtis Clark jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU
Sun Feb 28 13:08:57 CST 1999

At 03:14 PM 2/28/99 -0500, Mark Garland wrote:
>In a message dated 2/27/99 9:55:44 PM EST, jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU writes:
>> Botanical Latin is closer to a programming language than to a natural
>>  language, because an almost algorithmic precision is needed to
>>  unambiguously describe plants.
>Latin is just another language that can be used in many different ways.

Botanical Latin is a specific dialect that is used in a specific way.

>out the plays of Plautus or scenes in Petronius Arbiter, where I don't
>there is an "algorithmic precision" in the use of the language.

Neither is there an algorithmic precision in English, but the ancient
programming language Cobol manages to achieve that precision with primarily
ordinary English words and "Englishesque" syntax.

>It is true
>that a specialized Latin technical vocabulary for biological descriptions
>up in the Renaissance and later, but that vocabulary now also exists in
>languages, including English.

It's not the vocabulary, it's the syntax.

>To me your statement is like saying that the metric system of weights and
>measures is more accurate than the English system.  No--it's just another
>system.  It has many *other* advantages, but more accuracy is not one of
>It all depends on how you use it.   Same with languages.

No, it's like saying that inches, or even meters, are better than cubits,
because the former are standardized and the latter depends on the length of
your, or the King's, arm.

>Jan Bosselaers votes for Russian because of the number of declensions.
>the number of word forms increase the precision of a language?

No, it's how they are used. In a language where nouns can be verbed, noun
modifier words can be freely used as adjectives, and "Department of
Redundancy Department" is a joke, not gibberish, there is an incredible
freedom of expression, at the loss of precision. Latin is a dead language.
Botanical Latin is used for a specific purpose. No one writes poetry or
advertising copy in Botanical Latin.

>I guess this is a problem--for English teachers, anyway.   But could there

>some people so familiar with Latin that they're sloppy, too?

The bigger danger for anyone writing in a language used infrequently is
making mistakes. Maybe we should require that a description can be written
in any language, so long as a reviewer who is not a native speaker of that
language can understand it.

Curtis Clark                  http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/
Biological Sciences Department             Voice: (909) 869-4062
California State Polytechnic University      FAX: (909) 869-4078
Pomona CA 91768-4032  USA                  jcclark at csupomona.edu

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