Vernacular concepts

Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at FREELER.NL
Sun Feb 27 22:48:46 CST 2005

From: David Remsen <dremsen at MBL.EDU>
> If I had to define a vernacular concept based on how I interpret what I
> generally see it would be a "factual association resulting in an
> implied equivalence between a Latinized 'scientific' name subject to
> nomenclatural regulatory codes and some other alphanumeric encoding
> that is NOT subject to these codes."  In other words, a pairing of a
> common name with a scientific name.   You see it in field guide,
> checklists, in zoo and museum displays and a million other places.  I
> can imagine these, therefore,  might be the context by which an
> information consumer could sit down in front of a blank blinking
> keyword entry box when looking for information.

> This definition  distinguishes an identical vernacular string
> associated with two different scientific name strings as two different
> vernacular concepts.  Thus "bonito -  Katsuwonas pelamis" is  distinct
> from "bonito - Sarda sarda."   On the other hand this definition would
> also include ad-hoc usages including things like ITIS Taxonomic serial
> numbers.  It would exclude isolated terms not linked to regulated names
> as well as paired equivalencies between vernacular names ("bluefish,
> known in France as tassergal", or "Chochuschuvio, (Hopi) - White Tailed
> Deer")

> Is this definition too broad or too narrow?  Are there others?

It looks like a non-definition to me: it merely shifts the burden to the
source used.

It is quite possible that an item "Chochuschuvio (Hopi) - White Tailed Deer"
is much more reliable than "bonito -  Katsuwonas pelamis". It all depends on
the quality of the source. If a list is compiled by an expert in the Hopi
language and the Hopi lifestyle and makes equivalencies to well-established
common names, then it may be a very useful list indeed.

On the other hand the mere fact that a common name is attached to a
scientific name is no guarantee of anything. There are plenty of people who
throw scientific names about with a happy abandon and almost at random.

The definition also offers no protection against some of the wellknown
problems that come with vernacular names.

If only very reliable sources are used, such as field guides from
well-mapped parts of the world, this definition will do fine. But so would
almost any other definition. In the absence of expertise with the compiler
of the database it is the quality of the source that will determine the
quality of the database.

A vernacular concept should include details of who (person, caste,
profession, etc) uses the vernacular name, when (preferably begin and end of
period), the language it is used in, its general meaning and derivation and
to which taxon/taxa it applies (and preferably why). Also where, if is not
used throughout the entire area where that language is spoken.


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