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Article
Published: 2021-09-28

Science versus vernacular: should some taxa of animals and plants be renamed according to ‘indigenous’ practices?

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, PO Box 467, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
AgResearch Ltd., Hopkirk Research Institute, Massey University, Private Bag 11008, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand
Indigenous names priority taxonomy taxa nomina binominal nomenclature science culture history politics

Abstract

A recent publication recommended that so-called ‘indigenous’ names should be given priority over conventional binominals when assigning nomina to taxa. Explicit political and sociological reasons were given why such a practice should be considered. Apart from the fact that taxonomy should not be used as an agent for cultural change, a system that has been in unquestioned use for over 250 years has clearly unambiguity, utility, precision and standardisation in its favour, and is also supported and defined by carefully considered rules. In this rebuttal, reasons are given for the value and continuance of the current nomenclatural system and it is argued that the concept of indigeneity as applied to humans is not only questionable, but imprecise. Difficulties with deciding priority within a melange of languages and dialects overlain by diasporic movements, as well as the narrow range of available terms for biota in native languages, adds to the inutility of the system that is being argued against here, and which we reject utterly.

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