Language for taxonomic names, redux

John Cowan cowan at
Fri Feb 24 21:00:59 CET 2017

On Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 10:03 AM, Michael Everson <everson at>

I would also like other members of this list to be explicit about their
> support. misgivings, or disapproval of the scheme. No plus-ones, and if
> you’re fence-sitting, say that explicitly too. Thanks.

My view is that you are being excessively demanding, and that the subtag
ought to be registered.  In 1758, Linnaeus used Latin names for the
organisms he was describing because he was writing a book in Latin, then
the international scientific language.  Biology has moved from being all in
Latin to a polyglot situation to being nearly all in English, but the names
of organisms continue to be in Latin.  As such, it would be appropriate to
tag them "la".

However, Linnaean Latin is not Classical Latin or even 18C neo-Latin; it is
a specialized variety including terms like _cockburnianus_ that are
impossible in earlier Latin varieties.  That being so, and given the
specialized use, a variant subtag is justified to distinguish it.  This is
different from the case of selecting words from an extant language.

Note that being a mere list of words is not enough to disqualify something
from our list.  Aquitanian, like some other ancient languages, is known
only from a few hundred proper names embedded in texts written in another
language (Latin, in fact), and this is probably all the Aquitanian there
will ever be, yet we allow tagging these names with "xaq".  As Yuri points
out, there are specific rules for coining new Linnaean names, which is not
the case for vocabulary lists simpliciter.

Indeed, the author citation which often follows the taxon name as part of
the Latin-tagged scope may contain bits of Latin grammar in it:
 "_Andropogon aromaticus_ Sieber ex Schult." meaning that Sieber published
this name based on an earlier description by Schultes, "_Rubus ursinus_
Cham. et Schldl." meaning that the name was jointly published by von
Chamisso and von Schlechtendal, and "_Sphyradium_ sensu Hartmann" meaning
that this name was used by Hartmann but has been replaced.  (Note that the
author citation is never in italics, and even the taxon name is not
necessarily all in italics: some names of subspecies contain "ssp." or
"var." and this is not italicized.)

In short, I believe that "la-linnaeus" is an appropriate tag for the
subvariety of modern Latin used in taxon names and author citations, and
will serve the purpose of suppressing translation, as well as possibly
being appropriate for TTS in company with a user-selected choice of voice
font to specify the accent to be used.  In the case of recorded speech, a
nationality subtag may be given to indicate the accent used by the
speaker.  In order to allow all possible variations, the Prefix should be
simply "la".

John Cowan        cowan at
Does anybody want any flotsam? / I've gotsam.
Does anybody want any jetsam? / I can getsam.
        --Ogden Nash, No Doctors Today, Thank You
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