How to Pronounce Scientific Names (modified from Simpson 2010, Plant Systematics

Although scientific names are universal, their pronunciation may vary from region to region, especially between different
countries. For example, European pronunciations are often different from those of most American botanists. There are
no international agreements as to how scientific names should be pronounced. Very often, pronunciations are influenced by
one’s native language. One should be flexible and adaptive with regard to pronunciations, as the overriding goal is communication. The rules cited in Figures 16.3 and 16.4 are recommended here. These generally use traditional English for pronunciation of diphthongs, vowels (long and short), and consonants and “reformed” academic pronunciation (based on classical Latin) for converting to syllables and for accenting. (See Stern, 1992; however, see also Weber, 1986.)

DIPHTHONGS
Diphthongs are two vowels that are combined together and treated as the equivalent of a single vowel. The Latin diphthongs
and their “traditional” English pronunciations are:

Diphthong English Pronunciation Example
ae long “e” Tropaeolum
oe long “e” Kallstroemia
au “aw” Daucus
ei long “i” Eichhornia
eu long “u” Teucrium
ui as in “quick” Equisetum

Note that “ie” is not a Latin diphthong, but two separate vowels, each of which would be pronounced separately, as in
the genus Parietaria (Pa-ri-e-ta-ri-a). Also note that “oi” is not a Latin diphthong. Technically, each vowel should be
pronounced separately, as in Langloisia (Lan-glo-i-si-a). However, by convention “oi” is often pronounced like the
English language diphthong, as in “oil.” Thus, the genus Langloisia is often heard as Lan-gloi-si-a.

Occasionally, adjacent vowels will resemble a diphthong, but are actually separate vowels. In “ligatured” typesetting,
the two letters of a diphthong are connected together, such as “æ,” to distinguish the diphthong from two adjacent vowels.
However, in cases where the diphthong is not specially indicated (most print these days), a diaeresis ( ¨ ) is permitted
to indicate that the vowel combination is not a diphthong. For example, in the genera Aloë, Kalanchoë, and
Monanthochloë, there is no diphthong; the diaeresis shows that the “o” and “e” are separate vowels and are pronounced
separately. (Sometimes these are ignored in practice; for example Aloë is usually pronounced as if the ë were absent,
as in Ah-loh.)

SYLLABLES
Latin words have as many syllables as there are vowels and diphthongs. Every syllable of a Latin word is pronounced.
Thus, it is often valuable to convert scientific names to syllables in order to pronounce them properly and better memorize
them. Some of the rules for this are enumerated in Figure 16.3. Special rules for the pronunciation of consonants and vowels
are cited in Figure 16.4.

ACCENTING
A standard format for denoting accent is ` for a (grave) accent denoting a long vowel, ´ for an (acute) accent denoting a short
vowel. Determining the accent of a scientific name may be difficult without actually looking up the word in a flora or other
reference. However, if these are not available, the following general rules may be used to determine which syllable is accented
and whether the vowel of that syllable is long or short.

Determining whether a vowel is long or short generally requires consulting a Latin dictionary.
The last syllable of a word is never accented unless the word has only one syllable; e.g., “max” of Glycine máx.
If a word has two syllables, the accent always goes with the next to the last (called the penult); e.g., Àcer.
If a word has three or more syllables, the accent always goes either with the next to the last (penult) or the third from
the last (called the antepenult). The next to the last (penult) is accented if it ends in a consonant (in which case the vowel is
short) as in perennis pe-rén-nis; it ends in a diphthong (which is treated as long), as in amoenus a-moè-nus; or it ends in a
long vowel, e.g., alsine al-sì-ne. If none of these conditions is met, then the accent goes with the third from the last syllable
(antepenult); e.g., dracontium dra-cón-ti-um.

COMMEMORATIVES
Although commemoratives are preferably divided into syllables and accented according to the rules of Latin, they also
may be pronounced as the person or place would be pronounced in the native language. For example, the specific
epithet of Hesperoyucca whipplei may be pronounced “wíppull-i” (as the person’s name is pronounced plus the letter
“i”) as opposed to the Latinized pronunciation “wíp-pleh-i.” The general pronunciation rule is to simply pronounce the
commemorative as it would be pronounced in the language of that person, then add the ending. However, in practice the
commemorative pronunciation is usually converted to the language of the speaker, as pronunciation in the original
language of that person may be unknown or unwieldy. (Remember, the overriding goal is communication!)



Rule

A single consonant between two vowels or diphthongs goes with the second one
      Exception: an “x” between two vowels or diphthongs goes with the preceding one

Two adjacent consonants between vowels or diphthongs are split evenly
      Exceptions: these combinations go together with the following vowel:
            bl, cl, dl, gl, kl, pl, tl

            br, cr, dr, gr, kr, pr, tr


            ch, ph, th
         


Of three or more consonants between two vowels or diphthongs, all but the first
go with the second vowel or diphthong

Example

Tridens
exaltatus

guttatus

leptocladus

scabra
agrifolia

brachypoda
ereomophila
Notholaena

absconditus


Syllables

Tri-dens
ex-al-ta-tus

gut-ta-tus

lep-to-cla-dus

sca-bra
a-gri-fo-li-a

bra-chy-po-da
e-re-mo-phi-la
No-tho-lae-na

ab-scon-di-tus


Figure 16.3 Rules for converting Latinized scientific names into syllables.

Pronunciation Rule

“C” or “g” is hard (pronounced like “k” or a hard “g,” respectively)“C” or “g” is hard (pronounced like “k” or a hard “g,” respectively)

Exceptions: “c” or “g” is soft (pronounced like “s” or “j,”
respectively) when followed by the letters/diphthongs
e, i, y, ae, or oe






When a word or root begins with cn, ct, gn, mn, pn, ps, pt, or tm,
the first letter is silent; only the second letter is pronounced.







   NOTE: The above is not true if these combinations occur in the middle of a word!


“Ch” is hard, pronounced like “k”

“X” at the beginning of word or root is pronounced like a “z”


An “x” within a word is pronounced like “ks”

A fi nal “e” or “es” is long


A fi nal “a” is short

A “y” is pronounced like a short “i”

For “uu,” both “u”s are pronounced, the fi rst long, the second short

An “i” at the end of a syllable is short

An “e” is long if it is derived from the Greek diphthong “ei”

Example

Cakile
Garcinia

Cedrus  
cinerea  
coccinea
cyaneus
caerulea
Geranium
Gibasis
Gypsophila

Cneoridium
Ctenium           
Gnetales
Mniodes
Pneumatopteris
Psilotum           
Pteridium          
Tmesipteris

holoptera
Tmesipteris

Chilopsis          

Xylococcus
Xanthium

Zanthoxylum

Anemone
Rosales

Nicotiana          

argophyllus

Carduus

crassifolius

Achillea          

Syllabizing/Accenting

Ca-kì-le
Gar-cí-ni-a

Cè-drus
ci-nè-re-a           
coc-cí-ne-a
cy-à-ne-us          
cae-rù-le-a          
Ge-rà-ni-um       
Gi-bà-sis    
Gyp-só-phi-la     

Cne-o-rí-di-um   
Ctè-ni-um         
Gne-tà-les          
Mni-ò-des          
Pneu-ma-to-pté-ris
Psi-lò-tum         
Pte-rí-di-um       
Tme-síp-te-ris    

ho-lóp-te-ra
Tme-síp-te-ris

Chi-lóp-sis        

Xy-lo-cóc-cus     
Xán-thi-um        

Zan-thóx-y-lum  

A-né-mo-ne       
Ro-sà-les           

Ni-co-ti-à-na      

ar-go-phy´l-lus   

Cár-du-us          

cras-si-fò-li-us

A-chil-lè-a        

Sounds Like

Kah-kì-lee
Gar-cíh-nee-ah

Seè-druhs
sigh-neè-ree-ah
kahk-síh-nee-ah
sigh-à-nee-us
see-rù-lee-ah
Jeh-rà-nee-uhm
Jih-bà-sis
Jip-só-fi -lah

Nee-oh-rí-di-um
Teè-nih-um
Nee-tày-lees
Ni-ò-des
Noo-ma-to-té-ris
Sigh-lò-tum
Teh-rí-di-um
Meh-síp-te-ris

hoh-lóp-te-ra
Meh-síp-te-ris

Ki-lóp-sis

Zy-lo-cóc-cus
Zán-thi-um

Zan-thóks-i-lum

A-né-mo-nee
Ro-sày-lees

Ni-co-ti-à-nah

ar-go-fi ´l-lus

Cár-doo-us

cras-si-fòh-li-us

A-kil-leè-a

Figure 16.4 Rules for pronunciation of Latinized scientific names, ` representing a grave accent denoting a long vowel, ´ representing
an acute accent denoting a short vowel.