Latinus Scientificus: The History and Culture of Scientific Latin



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.