Saturday, 14 May 2011

Pronouncing scientific names

I'm often asked how to pronounce scientific names.  Usually my answer is "I don't care".  Botanical names are mostly in Latin, or at least have Latin form, but some are based on Greek and some on modern languages or peoples' names.  We could get picky and insist on proper Latin pronunciation, but the way the Romans spoke changed over time, and church Latin is different again.  I used to love hearing James Stirling talking about Ruddydendrums.
Euphrasia, Mt Cheeseman, Canterbury

Latin is supposed to allow botanists all over the world to communicate with each other, but we pronounce names so differently that often we don't understand each other.  New Zealanders say "You-frayzia" whereas Germans say "Oy-fraatzia" (Euphrasia).  In Pittosporum, some emphasise the first o, others the second.  Personally, I don't care too much.
Fuchsia excorticata, Port Hills, Canterbury.

What I do try to get right is pronunciation of botanical names that are based on personal names.  So I try to remember Fuchsia is named after Fuchs ("Fooksia", not "Fyoosha"); Dahlia after Dahl ("Daalia", not "Daylia"); Aristotelia after Aristotle ("Aristot'lia", not "Aristoteelia").

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