"Modern Linnaeus": A class exercise on plant nomenclature and taxonomy in comparison with a previous experiment
Keywords:plant nomenclature, folk taxonomy, cultural diversity
Ethno-classification is a science dealing with a search for order, or a pattern, in the ways in which people name and categorize plants and animals. An experiment was conducted in the Botany class during the 2008-2009 academic year at the University of Roma Tre to collect data on the naming and classifying process of students not aware of the Linnaean system of classification. Forty plant specimens were shown to students who were divided into small groups and asked to name and classify the plants as they like. This paper shows the results of this experiment which was inspired by a very similar class exercise conducted at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa during the 2007-2008 Fall semester. Differences and similarities between the two experiences are analyzed here. The hypothesis tested is if the naming and classification process may be influenced by differences in language or culture. The use of binomial terms for plant names was predominant in both experiments even if the Italian language construction may have affected this result reducing the related percentage. Plant names are mainly constructed using morphological features of the specimen, among which color prevailed. This same result was observed in Hawai'i. Some differences were highlighted in the percentage of used terms, which may sometimes be traced back to experimental settings, while the overall results of the experiments are very similar.
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