Deciding to Ditch Latin

A report details how the International Botanical Congress agreed in favor of electronic-only publication and naming new species using English.

By Tracy Vence | September 3, 2014

Nomenclature Section of the XVIII International Botanical Congress, Melbourne, Australia, July 2011IBC2011, MICHAEL SILVER/PHOTONETThree summers ago, the International Botanical Congress met in Melbourne, Australia, to discuss, among other things, the future of plant nomenclature. After 10 sessions, the group decided that new species of plants, fungi, and algae could be published electronically only and named using English. In a report published last week (April 29) in PhytoKeys, Christina Flann from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Nicholas Turland of the Botanic Garden and Botanic Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Germany, and Anna Monro of the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research in Canberra described the weeklong deliberations that went into this decision.

Delegate Peter Wilson of Australia told the group he “believed that English now occupied a place in scientific communication that Latin occupied in Linnaeus’s day,” according to the authors.

“Permitting electronic-only publication was arguably the most important decision made in Melbourne, bringing taxonomy into the 21st century and the electronic age,” Turland said in a statement. “As for Latin, it has become increasingly difficult to use and is often regarded as an irrelevant anachronism by modern scientists. The meeting clearly wanted an alternative.”

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Avatar of: christoph


Posts: 1

September 19, 2014

In my opinion, the time-honored tradition that species are officially named in Latin should not be changed.  First, even if it seems quaint to some, it does call to mind the history of science and the great minds that have gone before us, and thus underlines the continuity of science. Secondly, and more practically, whenever I see some Latin or latinized words in the classical pairing of genus and species (like "homo sapiens"), then this format itself is a flag that a unique, defined species name is being invoked. English names, whether in italics or not, will not serve this useful signalling function and can always be confused with other, ill-defined or common names. Finally, scientists speaking mother tongues other than English, may interpret this change of rules as another instance of cultural imperialism, even if it was not intended that way. Why fiddle around with this old and useful tradition without any real need? The Latin alphabet is a subset of the English one and easily handled by computers. I would not be surprised if a few years later, when the winds of opinion blow another way, there will be efforts to latinize all the English species names that arose in the wake of this ill-considered decision. 




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