Pronunciation in science: the case of biology
Oct 10, 2018
Pronunciation case by case

In biology and medicine, each species, genus, or family of organisms has a standard Latin name such as Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Phytophthora, and Rosaceae. As of 2018, there are about 1.8 million species described—including both extinct and extant species—each called a unique scientific name.

Even though biological Latin is primarily a written language, these names do occur in speech. Our language is about both written and verbal communication after all. Knowing how to pronounce these names is important for being able to communicate our ideas clearly and effectively.

There are no hard and fast pronunciation rules for taxonomic names in English—English being the de facto language of science. Moreover, these names often derive from personal or geographical names. One such name is Scythris worcesterensis—the species of moth named after the Worcester area in South Africa. Pronunciation of "worcesterensis" will clearly be influenced by the pronunciation of the original geographical location, /ˈwʊstər/ in this case.

Cofactor Ora's goal is to collect pronunciations of all systematic names found in the Google Knowledge Graph. By encouraging scientists to share their preferred pronunciations for Latin names and other terms that they regularly use in their speech, Cofactor Ora seeks to become the first crowdsourced pronunciation guide to taxonomic names and medical terms.

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