Message 2001-12-0002: Fwd: Why is the PhyloCode so strict? (long)

Thu, 15 Nov 2001 14:30:49 -0500

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Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2001 14:30:49 -0500
From: Philip Cantino <>
Subject: Fwd: Why is the PhyloCode so strict? (long)

David Marjanovic commented:

>In some places the PhyloCode is stricter than at least the ICZN, and I don't
>understand why:
>"a clade name must be provided with a phylogenetic definition, written in
>English or Latin"
>"it will often be worthwhile to include in the protologue an English or
>Latin description or diagnosis"
>Why only English and Latin, and why still Latin? ~:-| (Does someone know of
>any paper in Latin that was published in the last 100 years? On the other
>hand, I know lots of vertebrates that weren't described in English.)
>The ICZN only has a much more general recommendation here:
>"Appendix E. General recommendations.
>4. When the description of a new taxon is not written in English, French,
>German, Italian, or Latin, it should be accompanied by a translation into
>one of those languages.
>5. In publications issued in any other language than English, French,
>German, Italian, or Latin, the explanations of figures should be translated
>into one of these languages."

This rule in the PhyloCode is a compromise between the stricter
requirement in the botanical code (Art. 36) that new taxon names be
accompanied by a description or diagnosis in Latin (except fossil
plants, for which the description may be in either English or Latin)
and the more permissive approach in the ICZN, which only recommends
(Rec. 13B of the 4th edition) that authors should publish diagnoses
of new taxa "in languages widely used internationally in zoology."

In my view, the bottom line is that all biologists should be able to
read the essential material associated with a taxonomic name (whether
it be a phylogenetic definition or the description or diagnosis
required under the traditional codes).  The approach taken in the
ICZN would be fine if it were a rule rather than a recommendation and
if everyone agreed on which languages are "widely used".  However,
the only way to ensure that an appropriate language is used is to
specify which ones are appropriate in the form of a rule.

Personally, I wouldn't object to abandoning Latin if English, French,
and Spanish were the only acceptable languages (for the selfish
reason that I can read these languages), but I would not appreciate
having to deal with phylogenetic definitions or diagnoses in Chinese,
Russian, or even German.  Similarly, some biologists in other
countries might object to English being the only acceptable language.
These people and I accept Latin because it has long been the status
quo (in botany anyway).  I suspect that nearly everyone using the
PhyloCode will choose to write phylogenetic definitions in English
rather than Latin, but we have provided an alternative for those few
who, for whatever reason, prefer that English not be the only choice.


Philip D. Cantino
Professor and Chair
Department of Environmental and Plant Biology
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701-2979

Phone: (740) 593-1128; 593-1126
Fax: (740) 593-1130


Feedback to <> is welcome!