Botanical Latin; was Ferraria/Spelling rules

Jim McKenney
Thu, 11 Dec 2008 07:12:24 PST
I’ll bet the answer to Jim Shields’ question about the use of W or V has to
do with the author of the name in question. In particular, keep in mind that
names from Russian had to be transliterated into Roman characters. Since
Russian has sounds which do not occur in Latin, there is no way to simply
re-spell the transliterated Russian name so that its Latin spelling
reproduces the same sound. For instance, classical Latin did not have the V

So, if the intention is not to transliterate into Latin, into what language
is the Russian being transliterated? In many cases, the alternative was to
transliterate into whatever language the author of the name spoke. And in
much of the older literature, that language was German. Historically there
has been a significant ethnic German presence in the Baltic states, and for
long they were the West’s door to Russia. The W Jim sees in those names is
the German W (which of course has the V sound). To speakers of German that
made perfectly good sense: it reproduced the sound of the Russian, it
spelled the Russian in a way which allowed a speaker of  German to
accurately reproduce the sound of the Russian. Note also that German, too,
de-voices final consonants, so the V/F issue is a non-issue for them. 

The question of how to best spell personal names in Latin has been a problem
throughout the history of nomenclature. Because many modern languages
re-spell words borrowed from other languages (so that their speakers will
make an approximation of the source-language sound), some early taxonomists
tried to re-spell personal names so that when “Latinized” the sound of the
name was preserved. But this practice resulted in the re-spelling of the
person’s name, and was not widely adopted. No doubt too many honorees
objected to the fact that their buddies didn’t recognize their names. 

The modern practice is overwhelmingly to use the spelling of the source
language if it is a language which uses the Roman alphabet. That leaves most
of us clueless about the pronunciation – but since we are reading letters we
think we understand, we try anyway (and make a mess of it). 

It’s always a hoot to hear a newbie tackle Ligularia przewalskii.  

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7 hey, isn’t there a horse with the same name? That guy got around, didn’t
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
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