Voronof's snowdrop

Jim McKenney jamesamckenney@verizon.net
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 12:57:07 PDT
Bob Nold wrote" Botanical "Latin" is the product of "New Latin", a language designed to be written, not spoken."

A language designed to be written and not spoken is not literally a language, it's a language only in the metaphoric sense: a language is something spoken. Yes, botanical Latin is such a "language", and it's a lot like "Chinese", which also is not a language. If one wants to call mathematics a language, that's fine, but keep in mind that that is a metaphoric meaning of the word language.  It's like "Chinese" in that although botanists throughout the world can read and understand the information conveyed by botanical Latin (and here I mean specifically botanical nomenclature, but it's probably just a true of a description of a new species written in Latin) it's likely that when they try to read such documents to each other there will be lots of confusion. 

Just as "Chinese" is made up of lots of separate true languages which evidently read from the same script but are mutually intelligible when spoken one to another, botanical Latin is read from the same script but pronounced differently from place to place. 

Bob was right that there was no "w" in Classical Latin, but we can't rule out the likelihood that they knew the sound. It existed in Classical Greek and the Greeks had a letter for it (digamma, so called because it was written as two letters gamma one piggybacked on the other). Also, modern Italian, which does not have the letter "w", does have the sound, in, for instance, the name Guglielmo. 

Who's to say what is or is not Latin? Is Italian Latin? No modern linguist would probably say so, and the languages do not pass the mutual intelligibility test. But consider this: just as all living distinct species of life are derived from previously existing forms of life, there has been an unbroken line of speakers from the time of classical Latin to modern Italian. And just as attempts to distinguish living species from obviously closely related extinct ones
are largely based on the convenient gaps in the fossil record, so the distinction between Italian and Latin is enhanced by the lack of a spoken record between them. 

Bob also wrote: "The addition of impossible-to-pronounce-as-Latin neologisms refutes the notion that botanical nomenclature has a "correct" pronunciation in a Latin 
manner. (See television fallacy mentioned above.)

First of all, let's get one thing straight here: I am not advocating any particular way of pronouncing botanical Latin or Classical Latin. We know that Classical Greek had several strong dialects, and there was probably a time  when the majority of persons speaking Greek were not of Greek ancestry. There is every reason to believe that Latin varied a lot over the range of the Roman empire. So there should be plenty of choices.  

I agree wholeheartedly with Bob that attempting to pronounce as Latin "impossible-to-pronounce-as-Latin-neologisms" is futile. Perhaps where we part company is in my belief that the Latin part of such neologisms should be pronounced as Latin. 

Every time I hear the specific epithet wilsonii pronounced as it usually is by English speaking persons (will-son-ee-eye) I want to ask the speaker who this famous Italian botanist is, this Signor Guilsoni. And I also want to know why, of the two letters "i" at the end of the word, one is pronounced as Italian "i" and the other is pronounced as English "i" (the "eye" sound).

Not only have most of us forgotten or never known how to pronounce the Latin -ii which terminates so many words, most people probably have no idea why there are two letters i there. Just because there is no need for most people to know these things is no reason for those of who do know to change our own practices. 

And as for the attitude that New Latin arose de novo or ex nihilo and therefore does not have to conform with what is known about Latin: one of us is in deep denial. 

Jim McKenney

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