Latinus Scientificus: The History and Culture of Scientific Latin

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Barry Wood

Abstract

English is the first language of 330 to 360 million people but three times this number speak it as a second language. With an estimated 1.5 billion speakers, it is the most widely spoken language on the planet, though not universal; many regions are bereft of English speakers. A language with few contemporary speakers but widespread use is Latinus Scientificus (Scientific Latin)—a modernized version of the classical Latin of Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Livy, Ovid, and Virgil two thousand years ago. Kept alive by the Roman Church, Latin evolved into the Romance languages (French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish) and influenced virtually every other European language, including several stages of influence on English. Meanwhile classical Latin continued as the language of learning at the hands of theologians, humanists, and philosophers until the eighteenth century. Then, at the hands of Carl Linnaeus, Latin terminology was systematically developed for botanical description, then adapted for zoology, chemistry, anthropology, and medicine. While spoken and written Latin is now confined to the inner circle of the Roman Church and its official documents, scientific Latin has become the universal language of precise scientific taxonomy and description. The Latinization of personal names and places within scientific Latin reveals it as a still developing language. The influence of Latin in as the language of learning and science has led to a more general influence in literature and general culture.

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Author Biography

Barry Wood, Department of English, University of Houston

A Canadian by birth, Barry Wood earned a B.A. from University of Toronto (’63), M.A. from University of British Columbia (’68) and doctorate in English and American Literature, Humanities, and Religious Studies from Stanford (’74). During 47 years on the faculty at University of Houston, he has held visiting appointments at Trent University, Canada (’80, ’81), the UH London Studies Program (’85), and four years at Institut Teknologi Mara, Malaysia, in conjunction with SUNY/ITM Cooperative Program (1987-1991). His publications include a high school teaching edition of Huckleberry Finn (1968), two books in religious philosophy written while in graduate school (’70, ’72), and an edited collection of critical essays on Malcolm Lowry (’80). He has essays included in Norton Critical Editions on Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain. Beginning with several editorials related to the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970), Barry has more than sixty publications in literature, education, the environment, and big history.