'Pronunciation' feature for taxonomic names

#1

I don’t know how practically possible this is, but as an autodidact, pronouncing taxonomic names is something I’m always super self-conscious about. It’s also an area where an intuitive ability with language confers basically no assistance at all. It would be neat if there was a way for users to add a pronunciation (maybe also an option to agree/disagree, but that might be unnecessary). I’d like to think you could take it on good faith that the people taking the time to contribute to this would be familiar with the way the terms are actually pronounced.

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#2

By “taxonomic names” do you mean scientific names, or common names? If the former, I may be wrong but from what I remember from my 2 years of middle school Latin, there isn’t a universally agreed-upon way to pronounce Latin.

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#3

In my experience any two people (even experienced botanists) will have three ways to pronounce a name.

Some rules are generally agreed on like “ch” is a hard c/k sound.

Others, like how to deal with proper names (organisms named after people), are not settled. Some people pronounce the name as the person they’re named after would, others pronounce it as it is written. The most common pronunciation of “menziesii” (an epithet for things collected by Archibald Menzies) is either menz-ESS-ee-eye or menz-EE-see-eye. However, the Scottish name Menzies, is properly pronounced MING-iss, so a minority of people will pronounce “menziesii” as MING-iss-ee-eye.

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#4

seeing the replies makes me feel better myself lol, i have no idea how to pronounce anything

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#5

I’m referring to scientific names, yeah (sorry, assumed that was obvious). I don’t really think the nuances of ‘Latin pronunciation in the abstract’ are relevant here, in any case; I’m talking about how people who study particular organisms tend pronounce their scientific names, which I’d think would be relatively consistent (though I don’t see why this necessitates one uniform pronunciation either; if there are multiple accepted pronunciations, than any one of them is an improvement on pronouncing something so totally wrong that what you’re talking about would be unrecognizable because you don’t have any idea how the terms are actually said…).

As a side note: maybe this is some idiosyncrasy of mine, but just knowing how something is said (even if I’m only saying it in my head and not in conversation) is really helpful in terms of retaining information and memorization.

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#6

Also, for what it’s worth, I just want to emphasize that I’m not proposing this idea for the sake of proposing an idea; I didn’t expect to ever even post in this subforum and I definitely don’t want to create unnecessary work for staff. But it’s actually something where it has become a fairly common thing for me, when perusing this site, to then go browsing the internet for ‘how to say Peachia quinquecapitata’ etc., to no avail. So I guess I assumed I’m probably not the only one doing this, but maybe I actually am haha

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#7

I am exactly the same. I can’t remember what I cannot pronounce.

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#8

Such a great way to put it!

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#9

I don’t know anyone that would claim to know how names are pronounced, I often ask, and get the same reply: “I don’t know, but I pronounce it thus…”. I think most of us learn our taxonomy through written sources, and many of us don’t have Latin training in any of it’s three guises. I for one would welcome such a feature! Even if there were experts “in the know” of the correct pronunciation rules that could enter the details in the taxa page. Maybe as a new name type, or a pronunciation guide tied to each scientific name.

Actually, I think I do know someone that would know…

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#10

I suppose you could also add a comment to your observation asking if anyone can help with the pronunciation or maybe post it here on the forum.

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#11

The language of scientific names is a purely written one. There are no generally agreed standards governing how it should be spoken. Every region has its own ad hoc conventions, which are mainly based on the native language(s) of its inhabitants.

For an overview of some of the conventions adopted by (mainly American) English speakers, you could try How to Pronounce Scientific Names and/or Pronunciation of Biological Latin. But I guarantee that whichever guidelines you try to follow, you will always find some people who vehemently disgree with many of the “rules” they contain. As the old joke goes: the good the thing about “standards” is that there are so many of them!

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#12

Scientific names are partly based on Latin, partly based on Ancient Greek, and also sometimes derived from names of people, or words from other languages altogether. It is true that there is no set way to pronounce scientific names, especially genus and species names. So don’t feel self-conscious about the way you are pronouncing them, and don’t feel weird if someone else pronounces a name in a completely different way. It’s OK.

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#13

I love this example. I just took a workshop where botanists almost got into a shouting match over whether Halesia, a plant named for Hales, should be pronounced HALES-ee-a or Ha-LEES-ee-a. (Of course HALES-ee-a is correct, ahem.)

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#14

Hi @agnes_clamfanger, as has been said, there is not much point in trying to establish rules, and your best guess will often be as good as anyone’s:

  • Latin has not been used as a spoken language for some time, so it’s impossible to ask a native speaker
  • If you were able to get a Tardis to obtain a native Latin speaker, which Latin would you choose? Republican/Classical, vulgate, church Latin?
  • A huge proportion of organisms use latinised Greek words. Which pronounciation rules would you apply, Latin or Greek? If Greek, then classical, modern?
  • What about words that have other language roots? For example, a mate and I often argue about how to pronounce Deyeuxia (the grass genus). Should it have a hard ‘X’? Or should it be a ‘Y’-sounding ‘X’ as in the way one would pronounce Deyeux in French (the genus is named after Nicolas Deyeux, who was French)?
  • After all of that, I was born in Spain, and the way I pronounce Latin is totally different to my English-speaking colleagues. Which is more correct?
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#15

I feel so much better about my own pronunciation now!

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#16

Once again, my interest was not in ‘correctly pronouncing’ Greek and Latin words in the abstract, but in the way particular taxonomic names are pronounced in practice by people who study the organisms in question.
Your last point about the pronunciation varying depending upon mother tongue is valid, though, and I can see that being an issue. I remember once watching something about baleen and toothed whales (Mysticeti and Odontoceti, which I have always heard pronounced “mystiSEEtee” and “odontoSEEtee”) where the narrator referred to them as “mysticheddy” and “odontocheddy”, and it took me a while to realize she wasn’t making an error but that it had to do w/ differences in native language.

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#17

I was about to write that your best guess is still your best guide and that most of us just pronounce them as we think they should be pronounced. However, thinking about it, I suppose everyone who hangs around biologists is influenced by the way that their peers pronounce things, so I don’t know.

The pronounciation of the letter ‘c’ is a particular quandry, since in classical Latin it is always hard (as ‘k’), in later, vulgar Latin it would be soft (as in ‘s’ or ‘ch’), and in church Latin it is always ‘ch’. Ask three botanists how to pronounce ‘Senecio’ and you’ll have some fun :grinning:

Most of us can’t help but sound words out in our head, and my experience has been that we’re usually right, or at least there’s rarely someone with the heart to correct you :rofl:

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#19

Question: is “douglasii” pronounced doug-LAS-ee-eye, or doug-LAS-ee-ee, or DOUG-las-eye?
Answer: yes.

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#20

yes, I agree…

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#21

It might be fun to have, but impossible to standardize across taxa, geographic locales, and languages. There would have to be the option to include multiple variants. Just as modern day speakers of American English and British English may pronounce common words like “schedule”, “tomato”, “often” , or “aluminum” differently, different biologists working with the same taxa may pronounce them differently, with no one “right” way.

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