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How to translate the scientific names of plants/animals?
Thread poster: Sara Senft

Sara Senft  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
Feb 10, 2009

What is the best way to translate the scientific names of plants and animals? Should we simply leave them as they are, or translate them in to the target language?

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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:23
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
No translation Feb 10, 2009

Leave them as is. Translate their common name into the target language if it appears:

"My neighbour's very dog (Canis familiaris) destroyed my Latin dictionary."

"El muy perro (Canis familiaris) de mi vecino (Vicinus terribilis) destruyó mi diccionario de latín".


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Dr. Johanna Schmitt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:23
Member (2008)
English to German
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Scientific names are international Feb 10, 2009

Yes, common names have to be translated, but the scientific names are the same in every language, so an organism can be identified withouth a doubt if you know the scientific name. Then you can find the common name in a specific language, which is sometimes more or less easy, as the common names are not as precise as the scientific names...but it always helps if you know the scientific name.

Many greetings,
Johanna

[Edited at 2009-02-10 14:27 GMT]


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esperantisto  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:23
Member (2006)
English to Russian
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Not always Feb 10, 2009

Then you can find the common name in a specific language…


A particular language may have no name for a particular species at all. Thus, keeping scientific names of species unchanged is a must.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:23
English to Spanish
+ ...
Scientific name helps you translate Feb 10, 2009

This has already been touched on, but let me explain a bit further.

Let's say you need to translate the common name of a plant or animal from English into Spanish:

1. Google the common name in English, and find a site that also gives you the scientific name for that common name.

2. Then set language preference for Spanish and Google the scientific name and find a site that gives you the common name for it in Spanish.

That system works, although it is not perfect. For instance, there might be several common names for one scientific name and you might have to choose; perhaps a regional variant. It is also possible for several scientific names (or species) to be known collectively by just one common name.

That is the advantage of these scientific or Latin names, they are international and can actually help us in our work. So the next time you are stumped on the common name of a plant or animal, try it!


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
Another reason to leave them intact Feb 10, 2009

esperantisto wrote:
A particular language may have no name for a particular species at all. Thus, keeping scientific names of species unchanged is a must.


Worse, one common name may refer to three or five or ten different species that look similar to a layperson. The Latin names offer a greater degree of precision.


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esperantisto  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:23
Member (2006)
English to Russian
+ ...
Steven is right. Feb 10, 2009

More over, a same common name may even refer to species of different genera. For example, my English-Russian Biology dictionary says, that English ‘crowfoot’ may refer to species of Ranunculus, Lycopodium, Dentaria, Geranium, Plantago, Orchis, and Lotus. Horrible.

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Juliana Cullafiq
Albania
Local time: 20:23
Member
English to Albanian
+ ...
That's right ... Feb 10, 2009

[quote]Dr. Johanna Schmitt wrote:

Scientific names are international.[quote]

They should be left untranslated. In courses of Botany and Zoology we had to learn the scientific names of all species in order to pass the exams.
But it was Ok if we did not know their common names.

Regards,
Juliana


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Sara Senft  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I thought so Feb 10, 2009

I was fairly sure that we should keep scientific names as they are. I asked the question to make sure.

Thank you to all that responded.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 14:23
English to French
+ ...
The point of using Latin Feb 10, 2009

Since Latin is a dead language (no longer spoken, and thus never changing), it is perfect for communication between people who speak different languages. By using Latin, you can't go wrong, because there are no cultural nuances, no slang and no regional differences. That is precisely why it is used in science.

When you see Latin in a translatable text, always skip its translation. However, there are typographical rules for Latin in different languages. For example, most conventions require that Latin strings are always displayed in italics. But you need to look even closer. Often, names of plants and animals are followed by sp. or spp. These mean 'species', the former in singular, the latter in plural. These are always added immediately at the end of the name of the species. Some conventions use italics for these as well, but others use italics only for the name and not these abbreviations.

It seems simple at first, but translating text that contains some Latin is not always straightforward. I would know - I translated the names of dozens of plants and animals yesterday (I work a lot in the environmental science field). In my experience, the best thing to do is to ask the client for their own convention. If they don't have one, look up style guides on the Web that were published by organizations of whom you know that they produce quality documents, pick one that matches with your style and propose their use to the client (for your own translation work).

Here is one I like:
http://www.aciar.gov.au/system/files/node/10078/ACIAR%20guide%20to%20authors,%20editors,%20proofers%20and%20designers%202%20Feb%2009.rtf
Please, note that this will automatically open a popup asking you if you want to download the RTF document.

All the best!

Edit: I just can't seem to find a link that works, so instead, please type the following string in Google:

ACIAR authors editors proofers designers


In my case, the first result is the right one.

[Edited at 2009-02-10 18:15 GMT]


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kimjasper  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 20:23
Member (2006)
English to Danish
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Scientific and common names mixed Feb 10, 2009

I onced translated a list of plant names from English into Danish. Some of them were common names, some were scientific. The text came from north America, and plants that were common there had common names, whilst plants from other areas had scientific names. What makes most sense in such a context is to localise rather than translate, i.e. use common names for plants that are common in the target geography, scientific names for plants not existing or being rare in the target geo. Man that was tedious but the client loved it.

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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:23
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
sp., spp. Feb 10, 2009

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:

Often, names of plants and animals are followed by sp. or spp. These mean 'species', the former in singular, the latter in plural. These are always added immediately at the end of the name of the species. Some conventions use italics for these as well, but others use italics only for the name and not these abbreviations.



sp., spp. are used after the name of a genus to indicate that the specific species is not known or specified (sp.) or to refer to several species (spp.) in the same genus.

For example Hemigrammus sp. is a species in the genus Hemigrammus and Hemigrammus spp. denotes several species belonging to the genus Hemigrammus.



[Edited at 2009-02-10 22:14 GMT]


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:23
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
common vs. scientific names Feb 10, 2009

kimjasper wrote:

I onced translated a list of plant names from English into Danish. Some of them were common names, some were scientific. The text came from north America, and plants that were common there had common names, whilst plants from other areas had scientific names. What makes most sense in such a context is to localise rather than translate, i.e. use common names for plants that are common in the target geography, scientific names for plants not existing or being rare in the target geo. Man that was tedious but the client loved it.


Common names, even those used in a specific area, may refer to more than one species, and conversely many species are known by two or more common names, again often in the same area. In many cases, use of the two-part species name is the only reliable way to ensure that there is no doubt which particular species is meant.


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:23
French to English
+ ...
Sometimes include the common name if not there in the source? Feb 11, 2009

I don't know how often this crops up in practice, but there are of course various plants and animals where there is a commonly used name in a region, but where there's no common translation in the target language and you're pretty much forced to use the scientific name. I compile a Spanish-English dictionary and am thinking, for example, of various Mexican chiles, plants and animals where a scientific name appears to be relatively common in English-speaking literature, whereas in Mexican literature the local Spanish word is common.

Dr. Johanna Schmitt wrote:

Yes, common names have to be translated, but the scientific names are the same in every language, so an organism can be identified withouth a doubt if you know the scientific name. Then you can find the common name in a specific language, which is sometimes more or less easy, as the common names are not as precise as the scientific names...but it always helps if you know the scientific name.

Many greetings,
Johanna

[Edited at 2009-02-10 14:27 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:23
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
No... Feb 11, 2009

Neil Coffey wrote:
Sometimes include the common name if not there in the source?


No, I don't think so. We should translate and reflect whatever is in the source, and not add anything without the customer's approval.


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