XVIII International Botanical Congress and the end of the use of Latin Posted by on Jan 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

The title of this post is not completely faithful to reality. Recently, during the XVIII International Botanical Congress, it was decided that from January 1st 2012 it would not be compulsory to use Latin for botanical description of species. Now you can use either Latin or English. The names of the plants, though, will remain in Latin (or something similar, any name with a Latin termination is valid).

The obligation to write plants’ description in Latin was established in 1935 and it lasted until last December. They justify the change as it follows: “to describe the new species in Latin was an anachronism and an impediment to catalog the Earth’s biodiversity at a time in which the species may be extinct faster than scientists can describe. One impediment because today most botanists do not know Latin well enough to write a description in that language.”

Anyways, it is important to mention that the “botanical Latin” lately was getting very poor. Latin in this area had fallen to a simplified and impoverished Latin. They use a very basic Latin and if a classical scholar read it he would certainly be “horrified”. The change simplifies the job for scientists, they do not have to find a friend with knowledge of Latin. Anyways, it will be still necessary to understand descriptions written during the last century, and of course, before, when Latin was the language used for science writings.

An example: Orthotrichum pilosissimum, a species of moss from Nevada (USA) described in 2010 by a group of Spanish scientists, has this description in Latin:

“Species insignis axillaribus trichomatibus suis longissimis (ad 1.8 mm longis) basi ramificantibus, super caulibus tomentum formantibus. Filidia in sicco adpressa, linearlanceolata, apicibus acuminatis vel subulatis; lamina monostrata partimve bistrata, saepe propagulis munita; marginibus recurvatis vel revolutis, sed ad apicem planis vel incurvatis, longum fragilemque canaliculum formantibus. Vaginula nuda. Capsula immersa vel emergens, valde constricta infra orem post sporosim. Stomata cryptopora in capsulae dimidio inferiore locata. Peristoma duplex, exostoma octo dentium paribus recurvatis, endostoma octo segmentis tenuibus”.


For more information about this topic here you can read the scientific article from the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society where the changes in the use of Latin are described.


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