ON LANGUAGE MAKING

VIII Scientific Nomenclatures

I should like to end my paper on a practical note. Let us turn from the theoretical considerations of general structural features to the specific problems of science, to the need for scientific nomenclatures. And in passing let me mention that UNESCO, in its programme for 1948, provides for the collection of data on standardization of terminology of natural science and intends to promote activities to that end.

What do we find to-day? Professors Moon and Spencer, in their monograph on Internationality in the Names of Scientific Concepts describe the chaos in the following words:
No inventor of a new term seems ever to let his thoughts roam beyond the boundaries of his own country. In view of the global nature of science, this procedure is crazy ...
There are certain maxims which we will have to consider before entering upon the specific problems of each nomenclature:
(1) To what extent - if any - has agreement been reached on the standards and units of measurement in this field
(2) Which basic concepts are already in international use and how far do they denote the same thing
(3) What other means are being used for the purposes of this code, or terminology, or nomenclature [the Dewey decimal classification, formulae, code terms, etc.]
(4) What is it to be: A code of terms, or a code plus defined suffixes as in chemistry, or a complete language fit for the complete and univocal definition of phenomena and processes, as in electrotechnics.
These are but some general references to our enquiry to which we have to add the specific references for each branch of science:
(5) In what manner and how far can we translate, adapt, and extend terms already in international use
(6) Which of the language-making principles are best suited for further extension of the system after a unification of existing terms has been made, and
(7) Is the nomenclature to be used for writing only, or for writing and speech.

These are but a few preliminary points which we will have to clarify and which have to be extended according to each field of enquiry. Here clearly is a task which can only be solved by the closest possible cooperation between experts and linguists.

Quite apart from the basic concepts already in existence, I could imagine that the particles of a constructed language system could merge completely with the nomenclature and be so selected that they are applicable both on a national and on an international scale. Particularly so as many of the affixes do not as yet exist in any ethnic language, but are of a purely artificial origin. Indeed, their difference in form and sound should be a principle of the nomenclature in order to avoid the difficulty of scientific terms acquiring both a popular and a scientific meaning [brightness, radiance, etc.]. Let me quote some decisions from the field of organic chemistry accepted by the international congress on nomenclature in 1892 and at later conferences. General agreement was reached on the selection and meaning of affixes which are used to denote the different degrees of oxidization of salts [-ide, -ite, -ate, hypo-, per-], other suffixes were fixed to denote the different degrees of saturation of hydro-carbons [-ane, -ene, -yne], both to be used as monosignificant particles on the agglutinative pattern to produce the terms of organic chemistry.

A recent attempt is the proposal by Parry Moon and D. E. Spencer on the internationality of radio-metric, photo-metric and colori-metric concepts published in the Americal Journal of Physics during 1946-7. They started by redefining concepts for which different names were used by the Commission Internationale de l'Eclairage, the Illuminating Engineering Society, and the Colorimetry Committee of the Optical Society of America. The system of terms arrived at by them is unified for the chief European languages as well as for International - as the authors prefer to call the system in the absence of official recognition for a planned language. They justify their choice by the following reflections (1) that concepts now existing have come into being without a logical system and are to a large extent arbitrary, (2) that after careful examination of the three existing nomenclatures, the number of fundamental notions can be reduced, if they are accompanied by precise symbols, and if their relationship is fixed by precisely defined suffixes. Where the popular sense of a root predominates, a root is taken, preferably from Greek, and in such a way as to fit into the framework of a constructed language. The authors add that by the highest possible application of logic in the selection of names for fundamental concepts, and their use with precisely defined and invariable affixes, the system of terminology can be largely simplified.

I should like to make one short comment namely that the place of symbols, desirable though it may be in a nomenclature of a limited number of fundamental concepts, could be varied, (1) by the use of the Dewey decimal classification as proposed by the International Standardizing Association for technology, or (2) by the use of a key-language - which might be a constructed one - from which translations are made and which would serve as the only authentic base-language in cases of doubt. Some such system is used by the International Electrotechnical Commission.


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