redeuilh at CLUB-INTERNET.FR
Sun Feb 28 23:26:15 CST 1999
Latin or not Latin is a controversial topic debated from many years among nomenclaturists (e. g. in
There is a non English speaker point of vew. My thought is that the practical dificulties with
Latin (inclusively for Latin-languages speakers, as me) are secondary and, if seen under practical
considerations only, the problem has no good solution.
I draw the attention of English speaking people, which cannot be unaware that the foundamental
(cultural and philosophical !) problem involved by the question is rather: evolution towards the
"monolinguism" (with English but potentielly with any living language) is it desirable for the
Y discussed this thesis in a yet unpublished proposal to amend the Code (ICBN), of which I spoken
PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE CODE [ICBN]
(xx-xx) Proposal to delete Art. 36.3 (introduced in 1994 at Tokyo)
(xx) Delete Art.36.3
The reasons leading to adopt English language as an altrenative to Latin language in Art. 36.3 are
only allowable under a practical point of view. The concerned discipline (paleobotanic) is young
and English is currently workable in it. Nevertheless it is a true necessity to reconsider today
this innovation because it is just as well evident that such innovation must come within the scope
of a general interest which apparently has not been taken in consideration at the time of its
In true, that innovation may to be an insignificant event, if only restricted to the Art. 36.3. But
the case illustrates in a highly significant way a process which highly surpasses the scientific
field and which affects a very sensitive domain, that is the cultural domain. This process ought to
end ineluctably, by a simple extrapolation in the future of the present trend, to the adoption of a
single language for the whole humanity. We will see that the hypothesis is not free. Then the
question asked to the scientific community is clear: does it have the power, into the scope of its
works, to oppose to this process ?
Remember, before expanding this topic and for its justification in this revue where generally are
exchanged more technical arguments, that in the wording of the ICBN appears the term
"International". This oblige us to think to the international finality of this document, which
original version is printed in English only, but for which it should be dangerous to become a Code
"of the" and "for the" anglophones. Seen the specific strains in use in the present nomenclatural
rubric, the discussion will be shortened as possible in a deliberately moderated language.
First comment : "threatened language = threatened culture"
All naturalists are anxious, since years, by the biodiveristy evolution. Of course the living world
is a constantly deteriorated patrimony under human activity. The parallel with the cultural
patrimony of the humanity is striking if one observ that the disappearance of the cultures in the
world is clearly related with the disappearance of their own language (*)(**), this effect beeing
mostly accelerated by to the human action. This fact do it not too alarming ? Many people are
worried on that, notably in denouncing the tendancy in the degeneration and standardization of the
thought (see the topic of the "one-thought": a clonig of the thought is it not as much prejudicial
to the man as a biological clonning ?). An only language (in the future), made worse by a bad use
from people without tradition in its practice, appears as the major factor of degenaration of the
cultural capital of the humanity.
It must be emphazised that the anglophone community, initially multicultural, evolves quickly
towards a monocultural schema, thus beeing itself the first great victim of the process.
The cultural (and therefore linguistic) diversity beeing understood as essential, what can we think
about a rule who, in an international Code of nomenclature, initiate a process which goes against
this linguistic diversity ? This is a major question for which the users of such Code may
responsibly to think about.
Second comment: "at first the origin of the danger is into the economy"
We can say, without risk of mistake, that when the cultural and scientific elite no longer publish
in its own language, this one is in a process of fossilization. One can observe that such suicidal,
cultural behaviour is clearly started in a major part of the non anglophone, scientific community.
In all case where this community adopts English instead of its own language (notably the major
languages used in the world) in its publications, the short-termed objective is certainly a
research of professional recognition, but it is against the survival of its own culture. This is a
true dilemma. The acceleration of this cultural, general phemomenon is generated by the recent and
extraordinary increase of the power of the media in the cultural and informative field, at the
world level. These media are in the service of the economic leadership, who by nature is blind when
the question is other thing that profitability.
The economic power of the anglophone community (notably the USA) is directly the source of its
leadership in various fields: leadership / economic / scientific / linguistic / cultural.
Nevertheless, although the fact of the English being majoritarily used in economic and scientific
communities, it must be emphasized that this language is minority when rated with the total human
population. This situation of dominating / dominated is a source of serious conflicts in the
future. Such a simple and objective acknowledgement must be kept present in the discussion, even
though it is not here the place for its development.
Third comment: "the invasion process is widely started"
An only language in the world is certainly not for tomorrow, but the process which leads in is on
the move. That who was a fiction in a near past, come in more and more in the field of probability.
Thus, in many scentific fields, and the botanical field is among the best illustrations, the
escalation towards an only use of the English is in a breathtaking acceleration. Some examples will
be an idea of the extraordinary stress exercised by this language in this speciality:
* In the Botanical Code of Nomenclature, the goal is already reached because, progressively, all
the other languages have been purely and simply eliminated. In the same way, the mandatory language
in the Botanical Congress of Nomenclature is English.
* At each Botanical Congress, from now on, a proposal for dropping (more or less totally) Latin in
profit of English for original diagnoses is submitted, and rejected with a little majority. The
next Congress will not escape to this rule (cf. the Proposal 06-09 by L.A. Craven in Taxon Nov.
1997 46(4):808-809). The next steps of this evolution are foreseeable: proposal to admit validation
of the plant names in English, proposal to admit validating articles in English only, etc. Such
perspective is not a show of bad temper but the simple and clear headed extension of present
* The BioCode project does not reply to a true need (personal opinon ***), but one remarks it is
linked with English as alone alternative language to Latin. This one, moreover, is intended to
disappear in the future in the mind of the promotors of the BioCode ("In truth, the option of
permitting Latin for descriptions of new taxa under the BioCode is anachronistic and a little
illogical" - J. McNeill, Taxon 46 (4), Nov. 1997:755).
[See new recent comments from this author in Taxacom]
* Tirelessly, proposals to substitue English instead of Latin proceeding from ... anglophones
authors, are submitted. Such proposals "pro domo" are shocking for non anglophones because they
don't take into account the universal side of the raised problems. The reactions opposed against
such "invasion" are sporadic and insufficient, but sometimes forceful (cf. the alarming
intervention de T.S. Filgueras in Taxon 46(4), Nov. 1997:747-749, and the pertinent arguments from
P.M. Jxrgensen, which mach up with some of the present ones, in Taxon 47(2), May 1998:431-432).
Therefore, in Nomenclature field, decisions are taken by a majority of anglophones or experts who
are pledged to the anglophony: the match is therefore unequal. In such situation, the call to the
fundamental human values remains the ultime possibility of dialogue for people involved in a slow
but deadly process of its culture.
Fourth comment: "What to propose today ?"
* The abolition of Art. 36.3 may, for the whole botanical community, an act of infinitesimal
practical importance, but of a major symbolical importance. It may a willpower able to calm the
anxieties and the stresses which, without that, may growing in a near future.
In front of the passivity or weakness of reaction from the cultures which perspective is
regression then disappearance, involving those theorically strong but who neglect the danger - I
think mine - "protection" measures are needed, as measures in favour of threatened biotops or
species. To be the strongest gives responsibilities: dont forget that the collective conscience of
the humanity was born when the strong began to care about the lot of the weak. Don't forget too
that the survival of the man on the earth is not "natural" since some millenniums, it is due to his
intelligency only. Henceforth this will be the same thing for the survival of his cultural
Fifth comment: " a word about Latin"
In this discussion, practical problems linked with usage of Latin have been put on one side.
Obviously they are true but, observing that, save in some special fields, all botanist ought to
decifer, although basically, various languages, among which Latin, one must admit that these
problems are in a different perspective than those dealt above.
Latin has in other respects the great advantage to be a language not claming any leadership,
including among latin peoples.
The principle of the adoption of English - as a model of potentially only language in the world -
as an alternative language for original diagnosis in the Code of Botanical Nomenclature, goes
beyond purely practical considerations. It is involved in a process of cultural impoverishment of
the humanity and of conflicts with threatened languages and cultures. This mechanical phenomenon is
inherent to the structures of the modern world, mainly economical and mediatical ones. Such a
situation never occurred in the History and, therefore, no solution experimented in the past can be
helping to find an answer to the problem. An awareness would urge an organism such as the I.A.P.T,
which rules the Code, not to take the risk of more implication in that infernal gear, includingly
by an apparently so trifling measure.
(*) "... Mais notre rtle est aussi de les instruire (nos enfants) dans leur propre langue.
(...) Si notre culture meurt, nous mourrons."
(Jetsun Pema, s ur du dalao-lama, in Le Figaro Magazine, 22.11.1997, p.87)
(**) "... Sans diversiti culturelle, il y a stirilisation de l'imagination. Sans diversiti de
langue, pas de diversiti culturelle."
(Maurice Druon, Secritaire Perpituel de l'Acadimie frangaise, in Les Dernihres Nouvelles d'Alsace,
At this moment in time where in various botanical specialities (such as mycology) some people
question about the necessity to have a specific Code better fitted to her needs, the BioCode
project appears as an useless initiative (save to impose a few more English, if need be). This
project proposes in fact the coexistence of two separate Codes, one, complex, this one that we
know, for past pubications, and the other, the BioCode, simpler, for future publications. But the
inclusion of rules for the future can be very well made in the present Code, as it is the case,
without need of a special Code or of a special vocabulary (different in each Code!). This has
nothing to see with the need clamed by the promotors of the project, to be adapted to the Century
21 rules! If we want emphasize the special rules for futures publications, it is possible to
distinguish it by special typography, or to gather it in a special part of the Code. At last, all
attempt of justification of the BioCode (a simple, artificial tool for technical activity) by a
symbolism putting in parallel the uniqueness of the rules with the uniqueness of the world life,
would seem to me without foundation.
I received some private preliminary comments from a nomenclaturist colleague:
(...) The fact that the BioCode has (tentatively!) adopted the medium course
> is rather due to the effort of finding a midway compromise between
> botany (Latin alone) and Zoology (any language) that to firm
> persuasion of its proponents. You will find my opinion on the
> recently proposed "English alone" solution (the Craven proposal) in
> the Rapporteurs' comments to that proposal, just published (Taxon 48:
> 108). In the same issue (p. 41), you will find an interesting point
> of view by Llamas, which will presumably meet with your approval.
(...) Perhaps automatic computerized translation will have so far
> progressed six years from now to make the whole dispute appear
> irrational. (...) There is one point however which I dislike about your proposal, which
> is that it selectively affects the special domain of Palaeobotany for
> which you are an outsider. I find it equally objectinable for a
> non-palaeontologist to tell his "fossil" colleagues how to behave,
> as you find it intolerable that the English speaking should tell the
> rest of the world to learn their language. One ought perhaps to
> devise a way by which such a proposal, were it again to be made,
> could pass only if favoured by a majority from outside the
> English-speaking countries.
My answer (sorry for no French-speaking ones ! See English abstracts)
- Le "compromis" propose par le BioCode est, de mon point de vue, un mauvais compromis, parce qu'il
donne un avantage exclusif a une seule langue vivante: l'anglais.
A tout prendre, je prefererais de beaucoup la solution des zoologues (toute langue admise). Mais
elle s'eloignerait trop de notre longue tradition. Si je devais faire un choix personnel, le bon et
veritable "compromis" serait : double diagnose: latin + langue quelconque.
[The "compromise" in the BioCode project is bad because it is in favour of one living language
only. My own proposal would better be : Latin + any language (although the best one remain the
- Le fait que l'Article dont je propose la suppression soit exclusivement riservi ` la
Paliobotanique, pour laquelle je n'ai aucune compitence, ne change pas mon point de vue: cet
article est inscrit dans le Code de Botanique que j'utilise pratiquement tous les jours et il ne
peut pas m'jtre indiffirent parce qu'il s'inscrit dans un processus universel qui touche ` un
[It is true i'm a non paleontologist, but the problem not involve one scientifical discipline
only, it is universal]
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