THE SPOKEN LANGUAGE OF BOTANY

C. Michener
1894 Science  
SOME months ago there appeared in print, over the initials " E.L.G.," the following: " The eminent dendrologist, Prof. C. S. Sargent, whose good services in the cause of correct lzolnellclature have been everywhere recognized, has newly discovered that Halesia, long in use for certain American shrubs, is but a hoiilonym, and in a recent issue of Garrrlen itnil Forest (vol. vi., p. 434) has offered Mohria as a substitute. In this choice he does not discover that he has inacle another homonym;
more » ... another homonym; but this is certainly the case, for, as a spolten name-and the language of plant nomenclature is unquestionably a spoken l a n g~a g e -a is identical with ,lI.Iurea, a name already twice employed, first by l\letticns and afterwards by Salisbury . . . "-Bvj'thca, I. 236. And thereupon the author, for the reason he hz.5 stafei?, publishes a new generic name for Mohria. Later (Bythen I. 246), the same author saps: " Maintaining the ground we took that Mohria is a t best but a homonym of Morea, we offer the following instead of Swartz's Mohria:" -thereup011 again publishilig a new generic name. These quotations are given t o show the importance of the question which I wish t o present in this paper-a question t o which there seem to be two answers, one, that indicated by the course of Professor Greene in the paragraphs quoted, and the other, which I propose now to outline. This question has been suggested before, but t h e instances cited are the first which I have noticed that tend toward an active carrying out of an answer t o it; and it is in the hope that that solution of the problem may not be adopted-believing as I do that it would lead t o ultimate confusioll and the injection of the personal equation t o a greater degree than ever illto the sciei~ce of iioiiieticlature -that I write this paper. Professor Greene has stated that the language of plant nomenclatute is unquestioaably a spoken language. 'Vhis, I think, is hardly, as yet, true; for my experieilce has been that the German spoken plant-name language differs' sadly from the English, the English from the French, the French from the American and each from the other. But it has been decided that uniformity is a useful thing in plant nomenclature. I t is perhaps less patent, but extremely probable, that such a spolten language would be a useful thing. These true, it follows that that language should be uniform. We have agreed that we will not represent any two different plants by identical names. T o the date of Professor Greene's notes, above cited, that prohibited identity was identity of letters-of spelling. But me have now t o consider a second factor of language-~~sually t h e more important, here, I think, the less-sound. And his work indicates that when we find t-myo plants represented by words identical in sound, even though the letters that go t o make up the names in each case are not identical, we shall substitute for the name latest in point of time another not identical in soulid witti the former. 'That seems to be his solution of the non~enclatural problem upon the addition of the sound-factor. But, as I have said, I should regret to see it adopted. I think it mill be admitted that a means which will involve less change in existing postulates t o accomplish a desireci result is better than a means which mill involve grcater change. The desired result in this case is t o do away with homonyms in a spoken language of botany. 'I'he addition of the sound factor is responsible for such homonyms; (for, for the purposes of this discussion, we will assurne that under the rules already in force me have done away with all those whose identity is an identity of spelling-of letters) and it seems to me but reasonable that, if we are t o introduce this factor, it should be so introduced as not t o disturb in the slightest degree the wrltten language alreaclj-in existence. T h e means of doing this is plain. All that is necessary is t o assign t o each of the twenty-six letters which the wl ltten langrragc of botany has employed, a separate, distinct ancl i n~a r i a b l e sound, and we have, as a result, a spolicn languaiye in which no sound homonyms exist-in this way obvrating the necessity of tilsturbing in the slightcst degt-ee the written language already in existence. 'I'o talre, for example, the instance ahove noted. Professor Greene has noticed the two namcs M o h r~n anti So long as the language of botanic noinenclature remains merely written, these are not hon:onyms. But if we make it a spoken language, then-in I'rofessor Greene's opinion-they become so. This assumpt~nn leads us inevitably t o the conclusion that in Professor Grcene's spoken language of botany the letter r represents a sound ident~cal with that represented by the letter z, and that the letter h has 110 sound value-and he is thus compelled to disturb the established written language t o adapt it t o the suggested spoken language. In the system mhich I have proposetl, the letter r ~vou!d represent a sound distinct from that represented by the letter i, and the letter h would have its own definite sound, a sound present in f f i h r i a but absent from iWurca; and therefore I should not be compelled t o disturb the established written language t o adapt it t o the suggested spo1;en languaqe. This is the most important consequence of the spoken language which I here propose, and it seems t o me that its ilnportaiice is vital. A secoild result of the application of the principle here suggested is that it would produce a uniformity in this spoken language throughout the world; and until this mere done, we, as Americans, would hare no right t o object t o some Finnish or Russian botanist making changes in the written language (which is already cominotl t o all of us) because, in his particular tongue there might be too close a similarity in the sound of t~v o plant names. I have prepared a system of sound-values t o be given t o each letter in accordance with the above plan, observing the following principles : (I.) Each letter has invariably the same sounci in every combination. ( 2 . ) Each letter has a sounct distinct from the sounct of every other letter. I do not submit this schedule a t t h e prcsent time, for the reason that I have prepared it, h a v~n g in view merely the sounds of the Idatin-European tongucs, anct I3uglish and German; and I fear that I may have introduced sounds difficult of prouru~ciation for those who use other languages than these. 'The practical selection of the most convenient sound in each case is a matter of consirlerahle difficulty, since many names have bee11 published involving peculiar cornbinations of letters, many of which we are accurstomect to regard as being nithout sound value. With regard t o accent, the simplest rule I have been able t o formulate is this: " All nrortls are accented on the last vowel which is followed by a consona~it." 'This rule seems to work very well in this-it is absol~,te in its application-ui~iform-, and yet results in variety in the accent of words, some being accented on the antepenult, some on the penult and some on the ultitnn. I confess it was with somewhat of a shudtler that I brolce away from classic tratlitions in the matter of q u a n l~t y accent; but the atlvantages of this over the classic rulc are so evitlent, that I feel that I could in tilrie b(.come reconciled t o it,
doi:10.1126/science.ns-23.579.135 pmid:17794607 fatcat:t7qiha5ol5e6jat3lr5jbwjvry