Voronof's snowdrop

Jim McKenney jamesamckenney@verizon.net
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:35:06 PDT
This morning a friend offered to swap a snowdrop he got under
the name Green Mountain. Curious, I Googled (images) “Galanthus Green Mountain”
to see what I might be getting. Evidently there are no images available under
this name. But there were lots of images of other snowdrops, many of Galanthus woronowii. When I followed the
link to one, it took me to an English language  site which used the name “Woronow’s snowdrop”
for Galanthus woronowii. 
The eponym’s name was, in Russian, Воронов(say
voronof), so why is the snowdrop called woronowii? Because when the Russian
name was transliterated, it was transliterated into German, not into English.
What does that mean? When one does transliteration, the main point is to
produce a spelling in the target language which preserves the sound (not the
spelling) of the source language. A German pronouncing “Woronow” will say
something close to the English sounds of “voronof”. 
Had the
plant been named by an English speaking botanist, it’s likely that the name
would have been spelled voronovii. That calls attention to one unavoidable problem
with transliterations: there is no universally acceptable way to do it, and as
a result there will be confusion about how to pronounce such words. 
Is one
wrong and the other right? Of course not – each transliteration is appropriate
for the target language in question. 
nomenclature contains thousands of examples of transliteration, if only because
words derived from Classical Greek had to be respelled in the Roman alphabet for
publication. Historically this was going on long before the inception of formal
botanical nomenclature. (and the process goes right back to ancient times). In
fact, this swapping of words from Greek to Latin and back, and the sometimes
odd spellings which resulted, are a major source of insight into how the
Classical Latin and Classical Greek letters were pronounced. It’s often said
(and rightly so, I think) that we don’t know how Classical Latin and Classical
Greek were pronounced in actual speech. But thanks to all the ancient attempts
to represent Latin in Greek and Greek in Latin, we have a much higher level of
confidence in the sounds of the individual letters. And that’s all we need for
botanical Latin. 
gardeners just say them as they see them (i.e, as if they were English words),
and in doing so miss a lot of the story. 
If you
have followed this, then you have a good hint as to why Puschkinia is spelled with a “c”, even though it is based on the
Russian name Пушкин  , in English “Pushkin”.

So, why
does Puschkinia have a “c”?  

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7
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