Dr. K's guide to botanical Latin, with profuse apologies
to Wm. T.Stearn, from whom I (Kay) cribbed a lot of it.
(And yes, I (Barry) know that these images are not too true to the
period, but they set the tone nicely)
- Latin words are divided into syllables. There is one vowel per
syllable, with the exception of diphthongs like ae, au, ei, eu, oi and
- To determine where the accent falls in a word, you must divide it
into syllables. If there is a long vowel in the penult, (the next-
to-last syllable), the penult gets the accent. (au-STRA-lus, AL-bus).
- If the penult has a short vowel, the accent goes on the syllable
before the penult, the antepenult. (FLO-ri-dus, la-ti-FO-li-a)
- Diphthongs are treated as long vowels.
- In Latin, if two vowels that do not form a diphthong come together,
the first vowel is short: CAR-ne-us, ME-di-us
- In words of Greek origin, the opposite holds: gi-gan-TE-us.
- Watch out for the -inus ending. The i is long in some cases, like
al-PIN-us, but short in others: se-RO-ti-nus. Words of Greek derivation
usually have the short i in an -inus ending.
- Best way to find out where the accent belongs is to consult a decent
Latin dictionary, or a good flora like Gray's Manual. If the stresses
are indicated by a ` (grave), the syllable has a short vowel. If the
syllable is accented with a ' it has a long vowel.
- There are usually some minor accents earlier in the word if it has a
bunch of syllables: put them in reasonable places, usually every other
syllable.... rosmariniflorus is rose'-mar-in'-i-FLOR-us.
- You have your choice of pronunciations of letters. Stearn gives
"reformed academic" ("classical") and "traditional English" which is
next door to my church latin.
||as ai in aisle
||as ea in meat |
||as ou in house
||as aw in bawl |
||K before a, o, u (cat)|
S before e, i, y (center)
||in greek words as K or as k-h
||k or ch |
||G before a, o, u (go) |
J before e, i, y (gem)
||"y" as in yellow
||as oi in toil
||as ee in bee |
||as p or p-h if possible
||(how do you trill???) |
||sit, gas |
||t at beginning, but like |
ti in nation in
||as the French "oui"
|v (consonant u)
||u as in French pur
||as long i in cipher |
||as in French du
||as y in cynical |
If you're a true "church latinist", "cie" is "ch", not "s" or "k"
Now, as to pronouncing names that are stolen from other languages or
were once peoples' names, you're kinda on your own. Try to get it to an
approximation of the original language OR try to come up with something
that doesn't land with a dull thud on the ear.
"Warszeiczella" can be rendered "var-she-vi-CHEL-la".
One other problem. -ii or -iae endings can be tricky, since if you
apply the penult/antepenult rule, you need to put the accent on the last
syllable of the latinized personal name, which is usually where it doesn't
belong. So people cut some slack on that rule when dealing with -ii and
Finally, words of wisdom from Stearn:
"Botanical Latin is essentially a written language, but the scientific
names of plants often occur in speech. How they are pronounced really
matters little provided they sound pleasant and are understood by all
Ah-men! Dona nobis pacem! (at least on this topic!)
Kay Klier Biology Dept UNI
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