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Issue 17

Latin Names and Their Pronunciation

The 18th Century saw the development of a system of scientific name classification for all living things by the Swedish naturalist, Linne, C. (1707-78) whose name is usually given the Latin form Linnaeus. He gave a name for each group (Genus) and within that group a name for each species - hence this is referred to as a binomial system.

This double name system works well as it is understood worldwide and avoids frequently duplicated and confusing common names, some of which not only have the same name for many different plants (e.g. Christmas Bush) but also, in many cases, multiple names given according to local dialects, areas and apparent relationship to other plants which bear no actual family relationship (e.g. Blue Quandong Blueberry Ash, Blueberry Fig are three of about eight common names for Elaeocarpus grandis, which is not a Quandong Ash or Fig or related to any of those families).

The plant kingdom was divided into:

Angiosperms (all flowering plants)

which were then subdivided into Monocotyledons and Dicotyledons.

Monocotyledons have parallel venation in their leaves Dicotyledons never have parallel venation in their leaves then Families e.g. Moraceae, Myrtaceae, yrtaceae, Sapindaceae.

All families have the ending -aceae'. The last two letters - ae' are the Latin ending indicat ing the feminine plural form as well as the feminine singular possessive (= of   but it is the plural which is intended because the families usually contain several Genera, then Genus which (in singular form) is masculine gender usually ending - us, e.g., Ficus or feminine (singular) gender with the ending 'a' e.g., Acacia or neuter (singular) gender with the ending 'u m' e. g., Dendrobium, respectively.

then Species

which for the masculine, singular possessive form is e.g.fraseri (= of Fraser) the feminine singular possessive form is victoriae (= of Victoria) and neuter singular possessive form is e.g. beckleri (=of Beckley) or  fairfaxii (=of Fiarfax)

This form often came about in an attempt to foi in a Latin word from one which quite obviously is not of Latin origin.

It was hypothesised that if Fairfax were to have been a latin word its first person form (as in subject of a sentence) would have been Fairfaxius or if an adjective to agree with Dendrobium, then fairfaxium would be the appropriate form to agree with the neuter gender. In both eases (Fairfaxius and fairfaxium), it was the singular possessive form which was required, so and fairfaxii becomes correct (Note that the ending for the possessive form of the masculine singular and the neuter singular are both the same.)

By Jim Hansen

The Linnaean system of classification required that all plants (and animals) have both Genus and species as their identifying name this is described as a binomial system. The species name usually refers to a particular feature of the plant, its natural location or is named in honour of a particular person or after the one who first recorded it.

Some examples:

Backhousia citriodora where citriodora refers particularly to the scent of citrus (citri=of citrus and dory = scent). Mr Backhouse fully deserved this recognition for his effort in collecting many specimens and forwarding them to the Kew Gardens for scientific classification and recording. Lucky Mr Backhouse had many sweet-smelling plants named after him as he has a complete Genus bearing his name, but note that Backhouse has been converted to a Latin name with a singular, feminine ending and the species name agrees with it in both number and gender as both words end in 'a'.

Elaeocarpus eumundi being 'of Eumundi'. Strictly, one would expect that this should have been eumundus to agree with Elaeocarpus or eumundii to properly indicate 'of Eumundl', the area which comprises it's natural habitat. (Eumundi is of course, an Aboriginal word).

Acacia victoriae understandably has this spelling of victoriae as the tree was named in honour of Queen Victoria and not after the State of Victoria (as this plant is

Issue 17, Autumn 2001

Latin Names cont'd

native to Queensland and the Northern Territory).

I am indebted to Mr. Paul Forster of the Queensland Herbarium for the research into the naming of Citrus garrawayi, (including a 1912 American reference) as it was named after a north Queensland botanist who collected many plant specimens for identification and recording. (The often seen but misspelt garrawayae is incorrect because it was not named after Mrs. Garraway).

The examples are legion where mistakes were made in having the Latin adjectival form for species agree with the form for Genus in both number (singular and plural instead of both singular) and gender.

Even so, there is a good understanding around the world as to which plant is being referred to even if the Latin species ending is not technically correct.

A good reference book by Debenham, C. 'The language of Botany', Society for Growing Australian Plants, is one where the author has gone to considerable trouble to ensure the correct Latin form is used in botanical examples.

There are many botanical names in Greek-derived Latin to further confuse and complicate the subject.

Now to a few notes on pronunciation.

Many Latin words formed the basis for later words in French,

Spanish. German and English. The Australian/English use of long syllable sounding diphthongs in words like bite and plate easily give a false impression as to the Latin pronunciation where most vowels were short. The current (English) word `epicentre' gives the same Latin short sound for the first two `e' sounds and the 'P.

The usual split of syllables required the following syllable to commence with a consonant and not a vowel. Thus `i' as in 'it' or `bit' and Latin is pronounced `La' tin' and not 'Lat'n' as is usually heard. C was always hard like a V. So the pronunciation of Ficus should be 'Fi' - kits' with the short 'P and V sounds. Easy really isn't it?

Syzygium luehmannii would be pronounced as 'Si-zidgeee-um loo-man-ee -ee' (my use of `ee' to show the `i' as in 'it' or a slightly longer sound and the bold letters to indicate the usual Australian/English emphasis on the second syllable.)

Where there were adjoining consonants in each syllable, the pronunciation was based on simply splitting then, as this smoothed the flow of speech and added colour and fluency to the classical poets' works as they were read or spoken, eg., in English, the word 'planting would be pronounced in Latin as plan- ling but still pronounced as one word. So an easy botanical example is Eu--ca-lyp-tus (lyp' pronounced as if 'lip' in this case).

Often longer vowel sounds, were represented by two letters, e.g. lae' pronounced as if 'ee' as in feet. By comparison, look at `paediatrician' as an obvious English word of Greek origin and ponder the different pronunciation for `ia' within the same word! In fact the `i' in the second 'ia' through evolutionary language usage has become so short as to disappear in pronunciation with the soft V sounding like s-sh.

J.C.D. Hansen (Jim)