Message 2001-12-0003: Re: Why is the PhyloCode so strict? (long)

Thu, 15 Nov 2001 23:00:44 +0100

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Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2001 23:00:44 +0100
From: David Marjanovic <>
To: PhyloCode mailing list <>
Subject: Re: Why is the PhyloCode so strict? (long)

> >
> >"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
> >into one of these languages."

Oh, sorry, I forgot this is from the 3rd edition from 1985 and no longer
valid. (I'm also surprised it doesn't include Spanish.)

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)

:-o :-o :-o A surprising rule...

> 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).

There are English abstracts, summaries and figure captions just about
everywhere today. In the dinosaur world at least by far most problems arise
from papers that are unavailable because they're published in obscure
journals, and very few by language problems.

> 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.

What is a widely used language might change fast. German was surprisingly
common before WWII and has now become rather rare, even in German journals,
and relatively few biologists speak it. Chinese on the other hand was rare
and obscure, and now there are heaps of paleontological, geological and
surely other journals which are based in China and distributed over the

> 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.

These days you can soon find someone who speaks German and Russian (such as
me :-) ), and even Chinese isn't too much of a problem when you know
statistically enough people, I'd say. (Of course in reality by far most
papers in all German and Chinese journals I know are written in English,
whether by Germans/Chinese or not, for the very reason that most or all
biologists can read it, and the rest has at least abstracts in English. One
Russian journal I know is translated as a whole into English.)

> 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).

In zoology Latin is much more historical. The ICZN is always simultaneously
published in English and French (the first 2 editions or so also had German
versions). I guess (just guess) the older generations of French zoologists,
who have usually learnt neither English nor Latin, will protest loudly
against the restriction to English and Latin. In general US paleontologists
(still a disproportionately large part of all paleontologists) seem to have
a rather poor knowledge of Latin (and Greek), as seen from the dinosaur
names of the 20th century. The least correct ones have, however, recently
come from China :-) . However, *Rapator* (yes, no typo, wrong neologism for
raptor) was named by the German Friedrich von Huene in the 1930s, who had
surely learnt a lot of Latin in school.

Others will protest because the whole affair (like the 3rd edition ICZN
recommendation) is -- not for very bad reasons, but still -- completely

> 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.

Just Latin, which zoologists can't read anymore, is not enough, I think. I
also don't think it might be necessary to specify what an internationally
widely used language is. Laissez faire, everyone will continue to include an
English abstract, and the trend to more and more completely English papers
has probably not reached its end.


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