[Taxacom] Language tags for scientific names

Andy Mabbett andy at pigsonthewing.org.uk
Sat Jun 28 18:42:44 CDT 2008

In message
<a9f8e03f0806281530s4c78a270na50c50df7c40ca4a at mail.gmail.com>, Jim Croft
<jim.croft at gmail.com> writes

>> I don't think we are talking about meaning. I repeat the question in my
>> previous post: in what language is "Passer domesticus" written? And, by
>> implication, how should it be pronounced? What language-rules apply?

>In some respects, this is very similar to the early conceptual
>discussions of HTML where we had to convince people to think of a major
>heading of level X, not a lump of text in Y point bold.

So far as HTML is concerned, there are two types of markup which are

   *    language attributes (which have values which are IETF-defined
        language tags such as we are discussing) to indicate the
        language of content

        <span lang="en-GB">foot</span>


   *    classes, to indicate the type of content.

        <span class="body-part">foot</span>

The fact that the use of a "taxonomy" language attribute would allow one
to conclude that the enclosed text is of the type "taxon", because no
other types of phrase, or data object use that language, is

>  The style that is applied after the event does not alter the
>fundamental meaning or intent.

I don't think this is a matter of styles (at least, not the
web-authoring sense of styles, as in CSS, which is what I think you

>The pronunciation thing is interesting by probably unimportant and as
>Curtis and others have pointed out this should probably follow the
>convention of the language block in which the name appears.  Every time
>a Dutchman and and Australian have an English conversation about botany
>we end up laughing at each other over pronunciation of the scientific
>names but this in no way hinders communication (so we can quickly get
>down to the real business of fighting with each other over the
>taxonomy).  Heck, every time an Aussie and a Yank talk to each other
>about *anything*, we end up laughing at each other.

Standardisation of pronunciation is more important when you move outside
such dialects of English - there are no rules for the pronunciation of
"ph" in Mandarin or Japanese, because those letters do not exist in
their character sets; and in other languages where those characters do
occurs there is no guarantee that they will be pronounced as in the
English "phantom".

>As to your last question, the 'rules' that apply to scientific names
>are not really those of language - they just look as though they are.
>They are the rules of the nomenclatural codes.

What I mean by "language rules" are things like capitalisation (when
translating into German, for instance, the specific epithet is not
capitalised), translation (don't translate "major" to "mayor"), spelling
(use a dictionary of taxonomic names, not of Latin, nor the base
language), declension (don't, as explained by Gregor) and such like; as
discussed already.

Andy Mabbett

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