Adolf Ceska aceska at VICTORIA.TC.CA
Mon Jul 16 11:17:44 CDT 2001

Czech need for common names cannot be compared with the situation in
English speaking countries. Czech language has the declension of nouns and
adjectives and Latin (or scientific) names cannot be used in Czech
sentences unless they are in the nominative singular. English language
doesn't have this problem and you can easily say that you saw "plenty of
Festuca viridula" without feeling guilty of twisting the language.

Many Czech names were created by Presl brothers (they died in the 1850's),
who were both competent botanists and good linguists. Common Czech names
follow the same pattern as the scientific names, there is a unique generic
name and a specific name, i.e., the Czech botanical nomenclature is
essentially binomial. Many generic names were artificially created by
Presl's and a large percentage of them has survived. Specific names are
usually straight translations of the species epitheta. I repeat that the
necessity of having common names in Czech language was because of the
syntax problems and in Czech scientific writing, the scientific name
usually follows the Czech common name in brackets.

When Zdenek Pilous published his book on Czech bryophytes (in the 1960's),
he created Czech names for all the bryophytes (there had been some common
names, e.g.  for Polytrichum, Sphagnum or Funaria before him) and most of
names he created sounded funny and I wonder if Czech bryologists ever used
them. I remember "Borec~ka" [I forgot the species name] for Targionia
hypophylla derived from Borec~ Hill, the only locality in the Czech
Republic where it occurred. 

Japanese is one language where the common names are widely used
and yes, they are more stable than the scientific names. Japan has over
125 million people and their botanical nomenclature is well protected from
new combination and recombinations created by the outsiders. There is a
small black pocket book where one can find the scientific name, when it's

I doubt that it would be possible to reach a stable system of vernacular
names in English language (unlike the situation in Japan), nor there is a
linguistic need for creating such a system (as it is in the Czech
language). Let's stay with scientific names and promote them as much as
possible. I found the there is no problem with gardeners, who are using
scientific names without any difficulty. Naturalists and common public are
more resistant.

Dr. W.A. Weber wrote an excellent diatribe against vernacular names
("Vernacular names: why, oh why?") in BEN (Botanical Electronic News) 109:
I agree with most of his points.


Adolf Ceska, Victoria, BC, Canada

On Mon, 16 Jul 2001, [iso-8859-1] Zdenek Skála wrote:

> My two cents: the 'common names' are most often not connected to language
> but to local/regional communities. Hence, even the English Language Name
> need not be accurate enough - even within the Czech Republic regions largely
> differ in naming many plant species. Czech taxonomists solved the discussed
> problem (in the early 19th century) by introducing Czech names that are
> binomials parallel (more or less) to the scientific names but derived
> largely from the common names. Hence there are three nomenclatures now: real
> common names (serving as communication tool to local people in a given
> region, no formalization here), Czech names (no formal rules but stabilized
> by tradition - better than the scientific ones, I regret to say - and used
> more or less consistently in the floras, school, popular publications etc.)
> and scientific names.
> Best!
> Zdenek Skala

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