Ferraria/Spelling rules

Jim McKenney
Thu, 11 Dec 2008 06:47:57 PST
The nature of the relationship between classical Latin and botanical Latin
has been raised. 

I’m not at all concerned about the answer to the question “are classical
Latin and botanical Latin the same language?”. But I am intrigued by the way
people justify the positions they take on this issue. 

I know that many members of this forum are not only interested in the
horticultural aspect of things but also have backgrounds in the biological

I wonder how many of you realize how similar in some ways are the ways
linguists approach the problem of distinguishing languages and the ways
biologists approach the question of distinguishing species. 

Paleontologists in particular find it useful to distinguish between what are
sometimes called horizontal relationship and vertical relationship.
Horizontal relationship refers to relationship at a given point in time.
Vertical relationship refers to relationship over a time span. Thus, all
living species have evolved from previously living species or concurrently
living species. When we look at the fossil record and consider the
relationship of  living species to their extinct presumed precursors, the
differences are so great that no one would consider the living and the
extinct to be the same species.  Yet logically we know that if a living
species evolved from an extinct species, then there must have been an
unbroken chain of intermediates between them. And furthermore, there would
be no way to divide the continuum into good species: it’s all one species
varying over time. 

Now apply that point of view to languages and ask this question: is Italian
Latin? I’ve never heard a linguist argue that Italian is Latin (and I’m not
suggesting that it is, either), but there is every reason to believe that
there has been an unbroken continuum of speech between speakers of Latin and
speakers of modern Italian in all its variety. If we somehow knew about all
of these intermediate forms, then we would clearly see that Italian and
Latin are the same language. But since we know only the extreme disparate
ends of the rope,  we focus on the differences and treat them as different

And now consider the relationship between classical Latin and botanical
Latin in the same light. 

To me this makes the question which started all of this irrelevant. 

As far as I know, linguists have been no more successful at arriving at a
clear solution to the issue of distinguishing “species” of languages than
biologists have been in distinguishing natural species. There are splitters
and lumpers among linguists: for instance, most linguists consider Flemish
and Dutch to be the same language, others insist that such differences as
exist between Dutch spoken in the Netherlands and Dutch spoken in “Flanders”
are sufficient to justify recognition as separate languages. 

As with all such discussions, you can pick your doctor and get the diagnosis
you want. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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