Pronunciation of Scientific Names

On several occasions, people, speaking of scientific names, have asked me over the phone, "How do you pronounce that?"

In many emails I have addressed similar requests.

My usual response has been, "I'm not sure if it's correct, but I say ...."

Recently (late January 2005) on a discussion group, there was considerable debate about use of scientific names vs common names. One responder requested a guide to the pronunciation of scientific names.

Another recent search for some host plant information brought me to two gardening/magazine sites whose editors are now providing pronunciations of the scientific names that appear in their publications.

Perhaps it is time for the Lepidoptera!

I do not claim to be an expert in the pronunciation of Latin scientific names. My Latin studies go back to three years in high school and two university courses back in the late 1960's. I also recognize that there is considerable debate, even among the highly trained, over the "correct" pronunciation of certain combinations. Therefore, it must be understood that my attempts to provide pronunciations of scientific names on these pages is simply an effort to assist the reader with some "satisfactory" idea. I do not provide these offerings as any attempt to formalize or correct.

You don't have to study or learn the following rules. They are merely here as a reference to show the direction I have taken. Pronunciations are offered on each species page.

I have indicated the syllable I feel should be accented based on the following:

1) In all two syllable words, the first syllable is accented.

2) In words of three or more syllables, the next to last syllable is usually accented if the vowel in that syllable is followed by two or more consonants, or if the vowel in the second to last syllable is long in the original language (knowledge of traditional pronunciations helps here).

3) Words that end in a double vowel, such as "ia" or "ii" or "ea" or "aea" (digraph "ae" and vowel), have both vowels pronounced with the accent usually on the preceding syllable.
"ia" is usually pronounced ee-ah or ee-uh;
"ii" is usually pronounced ee-eye;
"ea" is usually pronounced ee-ah or ee-uh;
"aea" is usually pronounced ee-ah or ay-uh;

"qua" is usually pronounced as kwah.

4) Most other words have the accent on the third to last syllable.

5) Tricky ones come up, like "alabamae", which doesn't have its origin from the Latin. In such cases, I put the accent on the syllable typically accented in English. Hence al-uh-BAM-ah.

For the sounds of the syllables, I have followed the principle that all vowels are pronounced (except in digraphs: "oe", "ae"), even the final "e".

Double consonants, except when they are blends, usually soften a vowel.

If any of the pronunciations I provide seem inconsistent with your experience, please advise, and I will make revisions or additions as warranted.

Again, the pronunciations are offered not as "gospel", but simply to help, especially with those who may find occasion to use the words orally or like to feel "comfortable" with their silent or audible hearing of words while reading.

I have started with the North American Catocala (kah-TOCK-uh-lah) and will soon begin encorporating pronunciations for Sphingidae (SFING-ih-dee) on Sphingidae of the United States, worldwide Saturniidae (sah-tur-NEE-ih-dee) on World's Largest Saturniidae Site and North American butterflies on Caterpillars Too .

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