Vernacular concepts

Steve Manning sdmanning at ASUB.EDU
Wed Mar 2 17:03:16 CST 2005

At 04:41 PM 3/2/2005 -0500, Clemants, Steve wrote:
>I am fascinated by the discussion going on and feel a need to insert my
>two cents.
>There appear to be several possibly different concepts being put forth
>as indicated by the four different terms used: vernacular names, common
>names, colloquial names and English names. My definitions: Common names
>are what a species is commonly called, therefore some of the "made up"
>names as used in USDA should not be referred to as common; colloquial
>probably means the same, an informal name for a species; vernacular
>names are names in the native language, since Latin is a dead language
>presumably it should be translated into the native language, in my case
>English, therefore the "made up" names in USDA should properly be
>referred to as English names.
>My ideal would be to use essentially a binomial system but in English.
>So all Lobelia species would have lobelia in the name, all Asclepias
>species would have milkweed in the name, this would be preceded by a
>unique modifier such as Kalm's lobelia or swamp milkweed. But such as
>standardized system for English names does not exist (at least I know of
>I have recently (last week) turned in a manuscript for a wildflower
>field guide and have struggled for some time with the common vs. English
>names issue. While I personally always refer to plants by their Latin
>name and rarely even know any other names, that is not the case for the
>intended user of my book. In the end I decided to use a combination of
>common and English names as well as Latin names. Where there is a common
>name such as Indian Tobacco for Lobelia inflata I used it even though I
>could have made a better English name (such as Indian lobelia) but for
>all entries there is a common or English name as well as the Latin
>My reason for not solely using Latin names was my desire to engage the
>user in learning the plants and the diversity around them and less about
>learning Latin. Why complicate this objective by adding a burden of
>using unfamiliar Latin names in place of possibly familiar common names?

Well, because ultimately learning a new language is easier the earlier it
is done, and also because probably the Latin name is more reliable and
accurate.  You have to start somewhere.  I find this situation to be quite
analogous to that in African countries where children speak a tribal
language or pidgin English at home, then have to learn English nearly from
scratch in school.  It impedes most in their education.  I feel sorry for
them.  But some of the best English is eventually spoken by those from the
smaller tribes, who have NOT had their instructors lapse into the
vernacular language in the classroom at an early age because they were in a
classroom with members of other tribes (or if the teacher lapsed, it was
into a language other than theirs).  Once fluent in the language of
instruction, they find less and less need for the vernacular language to
express themselves.  This is not a value judgment as to which language is
better, but I think all benefit from fluency in the broader language,
whatever that may be - in this case Latin - and the sooner this is
"required" the better, educationally.  Part of learning about living things
is knowing how they are classified, and certainly also why there is a
uniform worldwide naming system.

Good points about the differences between "common" and "vernacular" names
but on this issue I reach the same conclusion for both.

Steve Manning

>*Steven Clemants          *
>*Vice President of Science*
>*Brooklyn Botanic Garden  *
>*1000 Washington Ave.     *
>*Brooklyn, NY 11225       *
>*718-623-7309             *

Dr. Steve Manning
Arkansas State University--Beebe
Mathematics and Science
Professor of Biology
P.O. Box 1000
Beebe, AR  72012
Phone: 501-882-8203
Fax: 501-882-4437

More information about the Taxacom mailing list