Dr. K's Guide to Botanical Latin

(with profuse apologies to William T. Stearn*, from whom I cribbed a lot of it)

by Kay Lancaster**

1. Latin words are divided into syllables. There is one vowel per syllable, with the exception of diphthongs like ae, au, ei, eu, oi and ui.

2. 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 the last syllable), the penult gets the accent. (au-STRA-lus, AL-bus)

3. If the penult has a short vowel, the accent goes to the syllable before the penult, the antepenult. (FLO-ri-dus, la-ti-FO-li-a)

4. Dipthongs are treated as long vowels.

5. In Latin, if two vowels that do not form a dipthong come together, the first vowel is short: (CAR-ne-us, ME-di-us)

6. In words of Greek origin, the opposite holds: gi-gan-TE-us

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. You have your choice of pronounciations of letters. Stearn** gives "reformed academic" ("classical") and "traditional English" which is next door to my church Latin.

Classical Traditional

long a father fate
short a apart fat
ae as ai in aisle as ea in meat
au as ou in house as aw in bawl

c cat K before a, o, u (cat)

S before e, i, y (center)
ch in greek words as K k or ch

or as k-h

long e they me
short e pet pet
ei rein height

g go G before a, o, u (go)

J before e, i, y (gem)

long i machine ice
short i pit pit
consonant i "y" as in yellow j

ng finger finger

long o note note
short o not not
oe as oi in toil as ee in bee

ph as p or p-h if possible f

r always trilled (how do you trill???)

s sit, gas sit, gas

t table, native t at beginning, but like

ti in nation in middle

long u brute brute
short u full tub
ui as the French "oui" ruin

v (consonant u) W V

long y u as in French pur as long i in cipher
short y 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 people's 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 -iae endings.

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 concerned..."

* "Botanical Latin", William T. Stearn, 1993
** Dr. Kay Lancaster is past Professor of Botany at the University of Northern Iowa. She is presently living in Oreg
on where she is presently doing freelance writing.