International scientific vocabulary

Last updated

International scientific vocabulary (ISV) comprises scientific and specialized words whose language of origin may or may not be certain, but which are in current use in several modern languages (that is, translingually). The name "international scientific vocabulary" was first used by Philip Gove in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1961). [1] As noted by Crystal, [2] science is an especially productive field for new coinages.



According to Webster's Third, "some ISV words (like haploid) have been created by taking a word with a rather general and simple meaning from one of the languages of antiquity, usually Latin and Greek, and conferring upon it a very specific and complicated meaning for the purposes of modern scientific discourse." An ISV word is typically a classical compound or a derivative which "gets only its raw materials, so to speak, from antiquity." Its morphology may vary across languages.

The online version of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (Merriam-Webster, 2002) [3] adds that the ISV "consists of words or other linguistic forms current in two or more languages" that "differ from New Latin in being adapted to the structure of the individual languages in which they appear." [4] In other words, ISV terms are often made with Greek, Latin, or other combining forms, but each language pronounces the resulting neo-lexemes within its own phonemic "comfort zone", and makes morphological connections using its normal morphological system. In this respect ISV can be viewed as heavily borrowing loanwords from New Latin.

McArthur [5] characterizes ISV words and morphemes as "translinguistic", explaining that they operate "in many languages that serve as mediums for education, culture, science, and technology." Besides European languages, such as Russian, Swedish, English, and Spanish, ISV lexical items also function in Japanese, Malay, Philippine languages, and other Asian languages. According to McArthur, no other set of words and morphemes is so international.

The ISV is one of the concepts behind the development and standardization of the constructed language called Interlingua. Scientific and medical terms in Interlingua are largely of Greco-Latin origin, but, like most Interlingua words, they appear in a wide range of languages. Interlingua's vocabulary is established using a group of control languages selected because they radiate words into, and absorb words from, a large number of other languages. A prototyping technique then selects the most recent common ancestor of each eligible Interlingua word or affix. The word or affix takes a contemporary form based on the control languages. This procedure is meant to give Interlingua the most generally international vocabulary possible. [6]

Words and word roots that have different meanings from those in the original languages

This is a list of scientific words and word roots which have different meanings from those in the original languages.

Word or rootScientific meaningOriginal languageOriginal wordOriginal meaningNotes
andro-, -ander stamen Greek ἄνδρ' , ἄνδηρ man in flowers of flowering plants
gynaec-, -gyne carpel Greekγῠναικ-, γυνή woman
capno- carbon dioxide Greek καπνός smoke
electro- electricity Greek ἤλεκτρον amber via static electricity from rubbing amber
thorax chest (anatomy)Greek θώραξ breastplate
toxo- poison Greek τόξον bow (weapon) via 'poisoned arrow'. It means 'bow' in Toxodon and 'arc' in isotoxal .
macro-bigGreek μακρός long
In names of biological taxa
-ceras ammonite Greek κέρας horn via resemblance to a ram's horn
-crinus crinoid Greek κρίνος lily extracted from name "crinoid"
grapto- graptolite Greek γραπτός writingvia resemblance of fossil
-gyrinus labyrinthodont Greek γυρῖνος tadpole
-lestes predator Greek λῃστής robber
-mimus ornithomimid Greek μῖμος mime extracted from name Ornithomimus = 'bird mimic'
-mys rodent Greek μῦς mouse including in Phoberomys
-saurusreptile, dinosaurGreek σαῦρος lizard
-stega, -stege stegocephalian Greek στέγη roof via their cranium roofs as fossils
crocodilian Ancient
Σοῦχος ,
χαμψαι (pl.)
Quoted by ancient Greek authors as Egyptian words for 'crocodile'
theriumusually mammal Greek θηρίον beast, animal
Names of bones
femur thighboneLatin femur thigh Classical Latin genitive often feminis
fibula (a leg bone)Latin fībula brooch tibia & fibula looked like a brooch and its pin
radius (an arm bone)Latin radius spoke
tibia shinboneLatin tībia flute via animal tibias modified into flutes
ulna (an arm bone)Latin ulna elbow, cubit measure
foetus unborn babyMedical Latin fētus As decl 1/2 adjective, 'pregnant'.
As decl 4 noun, 'the young of animals'
Classical Latin

Words and word roots that have one meaning from Latin and another meaning from Greek

This is a list of scientific words and word roots which have one meaning from Latin and another meaning from Greek.

Word or rootScientific meaning
from Latin
ExampleLatin wordLatin meaningScientific meaning
from Greek
ExampleGreek wordGreek meaningNotes
alg- alga alga alga seaweed pain analgesic ἄλγος pain
crema- burn cremation cremāre to burn (tr.)hang, be suspended cremaster κρεμάννυμι I hang (tr.)

Other words and word roots with two meanings

This is a list of other scientific words and word roots which have two meanings.

Word or rootScientific meaning 1ExampleOriginOriginal meaningScientific meaning 2ExampleOriginOriginal meaningNotes
uro- tail Uromastix Greek οὐρά tail urine urology Greek οὐρῶurine
mento-the mind mental Latin mēns the mind(of the) chin mentoplasty Latin mentum chin

Other differences

Another difference between scientific terms and classical Latin and Greek is that many compounded scientific terms do not elide the inflection vowel at the end of a root before another root or prefix that starts with a vowel, e.g. gastroenteritis; but elision happens in gastrectomy (not *gastroectomy).

The Greek word τέρας (τέρατο-) = "monster" is usually used to mean "monster (abnormal)" (e.g. teratology, teratogen), but some biological names use it to mean "monster (enormous)" (e.g. the extinct animals Teratornis (a condor with a 12-foot wingspan) and Terataspis (a trilobite 2 feet long)).

See also


Related Research Articles

Dictionary Collection of words and their meanings

A dictionary is a listing of words in one or more specific languages, often arranged alphabetically, which may include information on definitions, usage, etymologies, pronunciations, translation, etc. or a book of words in one language with their equivalents in another, sometimes known as a lexicon. It is a lexicographical reference that shows inter-relationships among the data.

Interlingua International auxiliary language created by IALA

Interlingua is an Italic international auxiliary language (IAL), developed between 1937 and 1951 by the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA). It ranks among the top most widely used IALs, and is the most widely used naturalistic IAL: in other words, its vocabulary, grammar and other characteristics are derived from natural languages, rather than being centrally planned. Interlingua was developed to combine a simple, mostly regular grammar with a vocabulary common to the widest possible range of western European languages, making it unusually easy to learn, at least for those whose native languages were sources of Interlingua's vocabulary and grammar. Conversely, it is used as a rapid introduction to many natural languages.

A lexicon, word-hoard, wordbook, or word-stock is the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge. In linguistics, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. The word "lexicon" derives from the Greek λεξικόν (lexicon), neuter of λεξικός (lexikos) meaning "of or for words."

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to linguistics:

Lexicology is the part of linguistics that studies words. This may include their nature and function as symbols, their meaning, the relationship of their meaning to epistemology in general, and the rules of their composition from smaller elements . Lexicology also involves relations between words, which may involve semantics, derivation, use and sociolinguistic distinctions, and any other issues involved in analyzing the whole lexicon of a language.

In linguistics, morphology is the study of words, how they are formed, and their relationship to other words in the same language. It analyzes the structure of words and parts of words, such as stems, root words, prefixes, and suffixes. Morphology also looks at parts of speech, intonation and stress, and the ways context can change a word's pronunciation and meaning. Morphology differs from morphological typology, which is the classification of languages based on their use of words, and lexicology, which is the study of words and how they make up a language's vocabulary.

A prefix is an affix which is placed before the stem of a word. Adding it to the beginning of one word changes it into another word. For example, when the prefix un- is added to the word happy, it creates the word unhappy. Particularly in the study of languages, a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed.

An international auxiliary language is a language meant for communication between people from different nations who do not share a common first language. An auxiliary language is primarily a foreign language. It usually takes words from widely spoken languages.

Terminology is a general word for the group of specialized words or meanings relating to a particular field, and also the study of such terms and their use, this also known as terminology science. Terms are words and compound words or multi-word expressions that in specific contexts are given specific meanings—these may deviate from the meanings the same words have in other contexts and in everyday language. Terminology is a discipline that studies, among other things, the development of such terms and their interrelationships within a specialized domain. Terminology differs from lexicography, as it involves the study of concepts, conceptual systems and their labels (terms), whereas lexicography studies words and their meanings.

The Greek language has contributed to the English vocabulary in five main ways:

English is a Germanic language, with a grammar and a core vocabulary inherited from Proto-Germanic. However, a significant portion of the English vocabulary comes from Romance and Latinate sources. A portion of these borrowings come directly from Latin, or through one of the Romance languages, particularly Anglo-Norman and French, but some also from Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish; or from other languages into Latin and then into English. The influence of Latin in English, therefore, is primarily lexical in nature, being confined mainly to words derived from Latin roots.

In linguistics, a stem is a part of a word used with slightly different meanings and would depend on the morphology of the language in question. In Athabaskan linguistics, for example, a verb stem is a root that cannot appear on its own, and that carries the tone of the word. Athabaskan verbs typically have two stems in this analysis, each preceded by prefixes.

Classical compounds and neoclassical compounds are compound words composed from combining forms derived from classical Latin or ancient Greek roots. New Latin comprises many such words and is a substantial component of the technical and scientific lexicon of English and other languages, including international scientific vocabulary. For example, bio- combines with -graphy to form biography.

Esperanto and Interlingua are two planned languages which have taken radically different approaches to the problem of providing an International auxiliary language (IAL).

Medical terminology is language used to precisely describe the human body including its components, processes, conditions affecting it, and procedures performed upon it. Medical terminology is used in the field of medicine.

Words can be included in Interlingua in either of two ways: by establishing their internationality or by deriving them using Interlingua words and affixes. The second of these methods is often called free word-building.

Words can be included in Interlingua in either of two ways: through regular derivation using roots and affixes or by establishing their eligibility as international words. The second of these methods is explained below.

English prefixes are affixes that are added before either simple roots or complex bases consisting of (a) a root and other affixes, (b) multiple roots, or (c) multiple roots and other affixes. Examples of these follow:


  1. McArthur, Tom (editor), The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press, 1992.
  2. Crystal, David, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  3. The online version is available by subscription.
  4. "International scientific vocabulary." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. Accessed July 11, 2006.
  5. McArthur, Tom, "Asian Lexicography: Past, Present, and Prospective", Lexicography in Asia (Introduction). Password Publishers Limited, 1998. Accessed January 17, 2007.
  6. Gode, Alexander, Interlingua: A Dictionary of the International Language . New York: Storm Publishers, 1951.