Hope you guys missed the blog posts (and sorry for the delay). I've recently come across a few thought-provoking pieces about the place that language occupies in science. The pieces are connected, in a way, but discussing them together would make for a very long post. So we'll talk about the scientific names of living things in part 1 today, and question the necessity of a lingua franca in science tomorrow. Let's start.
Since the 18th century, all living things are given a two-part name: think Homo Sapiens (humans), Escherichia Coli (a bacterium), or Canis familiaris (dogs). Despite these scientific names being colloquially known as Latin names, they can be derived from any language, be a homage to a person, or even a joke. There are valid reasons for the prevalence of this naming system: it's adopted worldwide, and allows for short and (mostly) unique names. As far as scientific codification goes, the system does the job.
However, a proposal has recently been put forward to restore Indigenous names within the scientific nomenclature. More and more often, Indigenous Peoples are consulted when naming, or renaming, new species (or landmarks). What the present proposal asks, however, is for the Indigenous names to be systematically, and even retroactively, included into the scientific names (turning Diospyros virginiana into Diospyros pessamin, for example).
From the paper: "for Indigenous Peoples, [names] may also embody history, a sense of place and a right to belong". And "the changes we propose would herald an important step in the affirmation of Indigenous People’s contribution to nomenclature and knowledge"
Support for the idea has been voiced before and the arguments are sound. The shift would acknowledge that Indigenous names predate scientific ones by centuries. It would motivate scientists to recognise and draw from the age-old knowledge encoded within Indigenous names (an unsurprising fact, given how indispensable that information was and still is to the survival and thriving of Indigenous People's within their ecosystems). And it would celebrate the beautiful connection with nature that defines so much of indigenous languages and cultures.
Is there a downside to this proposal? There seems to be little, if any: the underlying two-part naming system is left intact and the authors acknowledge that the number of species that would have to be renamed is small; the sum of human knowledge stands to grow, as does recognition of indigenous cultures; and the resulting names will be less Western-centric.
In addition to the proposal's inherent merits, it also benefits from a favorable social context, which previous attempts didn't have, so it might well garner enough support to get implemented. What are your thoughts about this?