Recording animal/plant names that are easy to say but difficult to write !

Here in Botswana, iiNaturalist could be a great tool for recording animal names like IIgaa!noo?kal/kamam!!kakiyaaxo and !?oellgamkagyibaxo and linking them to the correct, well-identified species. Many languages here have few speakers and even fewer in the younger generation who are losing touch with the natural history knowledge of their elders.
Perhaps the taxonomy section should have a feature to include a sound recording ot the name and not just the written word. Its so difficult to type in the different symbols for the myriad of different clicks ! Only a highly trained linguist would be able to write and interpret the strange symbols anyway.
It’s also difficult to record the tone of a word in writing which is also quite important here in Africa.
Could iNaturalist be adapted to be more inclusive of people who rely more on speech than the written word ?
Perhaps iNaturalist could be a facilitator in sourcing funding to train young speakers of the hard-to-write, unwritten, rarely used and perhaps dying-out languages to be iNaturalists, to document the natural history knowledge and animal/plant names of their people. Funding could be used to pay a modest salary of full time iNaturalist and provide them with a reasonable cameraphone and internet.

The work of supervising and training the name-recording iNaturalists could be given to the many small museum dotted around Africa which might appreciate the role.

What else could iNaturalist to improve the recording and documentation of unwritten and hard-to-write plant and animal names here in Africa ?

Looking forward to reading some ideas.

Tony Benn ( aka Botswanabugs)

It would be a neat idea so long as you got native speakers. Maybe it’s too far different from what iNat already does but it’s a neat idea. I have seen that some indigenous species names have been added to inat which is awesome and getting more of those on here via someone who uses the language would be really good too


A simpler solution might be to include an additional data field, for each common name, in which the International Phonetic Alphabet pronunciation could be included.

While I like the idea of having an audio version for for files, recording each one would be a huge and arduous task. And many species wouldn’t have a name in a given native tongue.

The amount of data required for audio recordings is also far more than you would need for a simple IPA guide: bytes vs hundreds of kilobytes per entry.

So let’s think about using the IPA: Many dictionaries, particularly ones for endangered languages, contain IPA pronunciations for each word (i.e. the data is already available). Transcribing those is feasible for an individual to do for a given language. Once transcribed, there are online services & software which can convert an IPA string into speech, so we don’t need to worry about users being able to read the IPA.

For instance, I could look up sunflower in Korean ( 해바라기 ). The Wiktionary entry for 해바라기 includes an IPA pronunciation guide: [he̞ba̠ɾa̠ɡi]. And using that IPA as an input for an IPA-to-text converter will give a decent audio version.

One could even make each and every IPA pronunciation entry into a link to such a service. It would provide a uniform and universal interface without requiring tens of thousands of man hours of effort (and funding).


I really can’t help, but as a person with a stutter I find most names hard to say, and easier to write!


Given the storage issue with audio vs photos, I’d think that a link to a site that has the recordings would make more sense than trying to host them directly on iNat.

Much like how species information is hosted on Wikipedia and only displayed on iNat rather than being being hosted on iNat.

Regarding the rampant loss of unique languages around the world, that’s a serious and heartbreaking issue. It’s not really in line with iNat’s model though.

However, it is exactly what the Endangered Languages Project, and others like it, are doing. That seems like the better place for the linguistic preservation elements you’re so rightly concerned about.

They have a Botswana languages page already.


I couldn’t find these by searching, although it may be due to using different location/language settings. For the suggestion what about adding diacritical marks which indicate pronunciation? Unless they already have diacritics. (see:

1 Like

You mean stress mark of words? I hate it when names are copied from Wiki with it, it makes those who don’t know the language think that it’s how the word is written, while people who know the language either know how to pronounce it, or can google it (and I don’t think it’s a bad thing, there’re so many words that we usually pronounce wrong, so I think it’s a good brain exercise). It should be added only as part of phonetic writing as was proposed before.

1 Like

I mean diacritic marks that are part of the spelling, for example (although not a species) which are used to write Hawaii (see: Although I haven’t checked whether iNat ever uses diacritic marks already or not.

1 Like

So, you suggest using them for languages that are not using them now, right? Sorry for questions.)

It was just a suggestion (if it’s applicable to use diacritics, which I don’t know if is true for the prompt). Alternatively, phonetic marks (or if there are any other kinds of pronunciation marks or guides) could be used. So, I don’t mean to state diacritics definitely can/should be used. Anyway, I found an example of a species using diacritics (I’m using the English language/US version of iNat to view all species, by the way):

There’re many Hawaiian names on iNat that are written that way! I know it’s a proposal and I’m not against it in any way, just trying to uderstand, it definitely could work and I think it’d be a good way of using them in “description of name” part.

1 Like

Although I’m unsure if it fits for the examples of names for Botswana given in this prompt. Anyway, I don’t have a strong opinion on this topic just a potential suggestion to consider if it would fit.

1 Like

The IPA is an alternate way to write just the pronunciation of a word. It does not affect the spelling of the original word.

I know, I never said that?

Whoops. Sorry. Seemed you were confused.

1 Like

I would like to continue my initial post ! Do iNaturalists need to become phoneticists and be able to write down all the various clicks they hear, properly and write them down as the IPA. I feel I’m too old to learn to do this. The variety of clicks in languages and tonal patterns involving click sounds, would I think be forever beyond my ability, to record accurate in writing. I am an English boy who has been married into a family of traditional doctors, sangomas and herbalists for 36 years and live in Central Botswana. Us iNaturalists, record bird noises and post them and that is not beyond the computing power of iNat. So why not those difficult to write names with hard to write clicks as well ? I would not expect ALL inat plant names to be recorded as sounds but only those which are tough with funny click sounds which are really tough for mere mortals to write and are unwritten by the speakers.

I have found iNat to be a really useful tool for provoking dicsussion with elderly family members who are unable to write any language or speak English. I have been able to show them very clear and vivid pics of plants and animals using a large computer screen. They provide very interesting information about their local knowlege of natural history and names in their languages which I think deserve to be recorded for posterity on iNat as accurately as possible, including tonal pronunciation. Perhaps an audible recording of the taxon name could be included as part of the observation itself or within the notes section. @melodi_96 @tchakamaura @bdagley @earthknight @murphyslab @charlie

1 Like

Having both probably should work best, you can hear it, can read sounds written and see actual name written, so it’d work for all people with differently working memory.

1 Like

Ive realised that iNat has plenty of animal and plant names recorded from Botswana in the non-click languages like Kalanga and Setswana. But is sadly lacking names in the San languages which can only be spoken properly by a local speaker. My interest is in how to put inat in the hands of a speaker of a click language,


I in no way question the value of such an endeavor, it sounds amazing. I just question whether it could be shoehorned into iNat. I wish the answer were yes and i wish iNat could store all kinds of indigenous cultural knowledge, but i’m not sure it’s actually feasible, nor would all groups necessarily want us to do so anyway.


Perhaps the audible recording of names with hard-to-write, click sounds could be switched on for certain countries where there is a need, like Botswana, Namibia and S Africa and kept switched off for the rest of the world where there may be little interest, need or use.

How is iNat going to take off in Botswana if it not adapted to the needs of local users.