Ferraria/Spelling rules

Jim McKenney
Thu, 11 Dec 2008 11:37:56 PST
Mary Sue wrote: “IPNI lists it this way:
Iridaceae Ferraria crispa Burm. subsp. nortieri  <> Vos
-- J. S. African 
Bot. 45(3): 343 (1979), as 'nortierii'. (IK)

From a practical standpoint it would be nice if someone checked the rules 
before accepting the way someone names a plant so it would not have to be 
changed down the road.”





Mary Sue has provided a good example of the r which is not an r. Or at
least I think she has. If the eponym for the name nortieri pronounced his
name as a French name, then the name does not end in a consonant. Say the
name French-style: what is the nature of the final sound? It’s a vowel


Yes, it’s spelled with what we speakers of English see as a consonant at
the end of the word; but the word itself, the word as spoken, ends in a
vowel sound. This overweening focus on the written word and simultaneous
ignoring of the spoken word gets us into trouble. This question of the
usage of a single i or a double ii has its roots in the phonetics of Latin
and the languages derived from it. Those of us who speak non-Romance
languages are apt to be clueless about this: it’s not something to which
we attach any importance; our sense of euphony doesn’t speak to this. 


Here’s the deal in its most basic form: it’s difficult to enunciate
multiple vowels sounds without intervening consonant sounds. Thus, the
orthography of many languages puts a limit on the size of vowel clusters.
And where there are not formal prohibitions and two or more vowels occur
together, prevailing patterns of speech typically insert unwritten glides
(in effect, consonants) between such vowels.  


Words which end in silent consonants (consonants preceded by a vowel) thus
already end in one vowel. To add two more (the  ii of nomenclature) would
make the pronunciation awkward. That’s why Buddleja is spelled with a j:
the j is a semi-vowel form of i (in other words a glide) inserted to
separate the surrounding vowel sounds. 


This disjunction between the written form of words and their spoken form is
largely ignored by many people. It isn’t enough to focus solely on the
written form of the word. And it certainly doesn’t make sense to focus
solely on the written form of the word and then attempt to justify
orthographic decisions on the basis of  what are actually rules of
phonetics. The sound should come first, and the orthographic decisions
should follow. I have a hunch only native speakers of English will be
asking “Why?” 


An earlier phase of this thread touched on transliteration. But the term
transliteration is a bit of a misnomer because it is not the letters
themselves which determine the final outcome, but rather the sound which a
letter represents in the source language. That’s why a German speaker will
transliterate the Russian в as w and the English-speaking person will
transliterate it as a v - and neither transliterates it as English B.  In
the old days of botanical nomenclature there was no recognized
international standard for this; our legacy is thus varied. 


I wouldn’t want to predict what way botanical nomenclature will go in the
future with these issues, but of this I am certain: those who attempt to
separate current nomenclatural practice from that of the past, who want a
botanical Latin independent of text-book Latin for instance, are
shortchanging themselves. Yes, botanical Latin should be free to  grow in
its own direction. But if we are to retain an understanding of what our
predecessors did and why they did it, we have to retain an understanding of
their practices.   


While I think most of us would agree at least in spirit with Mary Sue’s
suggestion that someone “check the rules”, I wonder who that someone
might be. Most taxonomists are not linguists; the language used for
nomenclature is an international language - it’s not enough that it agree
only with the sensibilities of those of us in the English-speaking world;
in so far as possible it should serve everyone. 


When I was a kid, I learned many Californian place names incorrectly
because I had no experience with Spanish. Names such as La Jolla, Baja
California and the like I pronounced as if they were English. When I got
older and realized what was what - and pointed this out to others - many
responded with chauvinistic huffiness: “You won’t catch me talking like
some foreigner…”


Except for the chauvinistic huffiness part, elements of this thread remind
me of this. The words don’t always mean what you think they mean. 


Jim McKenney

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA
zone 7

My Virtual Maryland Garden



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