Latin versus english pronounciation

Jim McKenney
Wed, 13 Jul 2005 05:14:28 PDT
Thank you, Ben.


Something seems to have gotten confused here. For the most part, I'm on your
team, Ben.


When you write " A large part of your problem with latinized names stems 

from the fact that you try to pronounce as if it was english That is  

not of great help."


The problem is not, as you say, that I am trying to pronounce English names
as if they were English names. They are English names.


The "problem" is that I reject as ridiculous the notion that these names
have been Latinized.


You also say "Of course no one knows how the 

romans prounced it but the roman languages as they now exist are 

a far better approximation than the english language, that has 

forgotten to  adapt the written words to the spoken words."


(my bolding, and apologies to those whose e-mail does not support it)


BRAVO! You have hit the nail squarely on the head!


Look at the history of the modern European languages. Although there are
exceptions, more so during our times, historically when these languages
adopted a word from another language, the word which came into the borrowing
language was spelled in such a way that the sounds of the original word in
the other language were, in so far as the sound structure of the borrowing
language would allow, preserved. 


If both the source language and the borrowing language used the Latin
alphabet, the word would have been re-spelled to reproduce in the borrowing
language the approximate sounds of the source language.


In the modern world, there has been a shift to worship the written word. As
a result, there has been a growing tendency (apt to be all but universal in
the English-speaking world) to borrow words from other languages and while
ignoring the pronunciation of those words preserving religiously the
spelling as it exists in the source language. 


Not in my world does a pattern of ink on a piece of paper replace the
living, breathing sound that is the true word. 


One result of this is that the average Joe of the English-speaking world
(already notorious for his ethnocentricity and lack of interest in foreign
languages) has a splendid vocabulary of mispronounced words of foreign
origin. And he thinks the foreigners are being snotty when they correct his


In this country we have had a huge and wonderfully invigorating influx of
words of foreign origin brought by immigrants (and all of us are immigrants
here because humans are not native to North America). Most of us learn about
those words from print media. Print media, of course, carry no pronunciation
guides as a rule. 


Thus, when I see in the newspaper a word with ll ( double l), I'm often
stumped. If it is of Italian origin, it should be pronounced on way. If it
is of Spanish origin, it should be pronounced another way. Just when I think
I am getting the hang of distinguishing Italian and Spanish, someone will
throw in a Portuguese word with the ll - and I feel like a dummy again.


When the average Joe tries to read the label at a zoo for Przewalski's horse
(or in the garden, tries to pronounce Ligularia przewalskii), things get
very creative. 


All of this could have been avoided if we had stuck to the time-honored
practice of re-spelling borrowed words to reflect their pronunciation. Or at
least, in the news media, if we had stuck to the once prevalent practice of
italicizing words of foreign origin. There seems to be a growing uncertainty
in the print media about this. 


Now, to get back on a favorite hobby horse: botanical names which preserve
the spelling of original, non-romance source language can, in my book,
hardly be said to have been Latinized.


Let's go back to the example used in the earlier post, the name Sloane. I'm
assuming that this is an English-language name, pronounced as a one-syllable
word. If you want to reproduce the sound of that name in Latin, you write
simply slon. But of course at this point, your honoree Sloane squawks "my
name is unrecognizable". So you give in and spell the botanical name


Is that really any better? We have successfully stroked the vanity of one
person, and in doing so have inconvenienced a great many other potential
users of this name. Persons who do not speak English can be excused for
wondering how to pronounce such a name (and as you can see in my earlier
post, I was not all that sure myself). If you think the name is Latin, you
will pronounce it with four syllables: slo-a-ne-a. And your honoree Sloan
will be squawking again. If you are a non-English speaking botanist at a
conference and pronounce it the way it looks (as a four syllable word),
perhaps one of your English-speaking colleagues will nudge you gently and
suggest that you drop a syllable. Or perhaps the less charitable ones will
be snickering in the background as you try to figure out what is so funny. 


Furthermore, how do you apply the traditional rule for determining the
position of the accent to such a word. The critical vowel, the vowel of the
penultimate syllable, the e which ends the name Sloane, is SILENT!


In the case of the word Sloane, a better solution would have been to
recognize the silent vowel and treat the botanical name as one based on a
word which ends in a consonant (as the spoken word Sloane does end with a
consonant sound). To my way of thinking it would have made much better sense
to spell the botanical name Sloaneia. That at least would have implied to
users of the Rules that something funny was going on in the pronunciation of
the word Sloane, that the final e was silent. 


Jim McKenney

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where there's nothing silent
about me.   




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