Latin pronounciation

Jane McGary
Fri, 12 Dec 2008 08:53:37 PST
Out here in the West, "Kniphofia" is often pronounced "nip-hoff-i-a," 
though we do throw in the "k" (if we can) when talking to a German speaker.

The British pronunciation of Latin has been mocked by Europeans for 
centuries, but the European pronunciation is long evolved from what 
might have been heard in Rome of the Empire period. (Yes, we can 
hypothesize what that was like. Don't get me started, it is not a 
productive line for us.)

Plant names are loan words, and the treatment of loan words tends to 
be different in American and British English; Americans tend to 
preserve the pronunciation from the source language more than British 
(and British postcolonial) speakers do (e.g., "garage"). American 
speakers also tend to use more "Continental" vowels than British 
speakers do, especially in regard to the vowel "a" (Spanish "casa," 
for instance). European Latin pronunciation is heavily influenced by 
that employed historically in the Roman Catholic Church, which in 
turn is influenced by Italian (and yes, I know that historically 
"Italian" is not one language).

It's helpful to know these differences if you have occasion (such as 
guiding a field trip) to relay plant names to a group from various countries.

Another complication that arises, which hasn't been mentioned, is 
that writers from Russia and the former Soviet countries often come 
up with variant spellings of plant names when they're transliterating 
them from Russian floras without looking at roman-alphabet floras for 
comparison. Japanese botanical works usually include roman-alphabet 
versions of the plant names, but an editor working with English prose 
from a Japanese author (or a seed exchange processor dealing with 
Japanese donors) has to be alert to the frequent switches between "r" and "l".

Jane McGary

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