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Plant Focus

Quercus peninsularis
A Red Oak (Section Lobatae) endemic to inland ranges of northern Baja California, Mexico

An Oak by Any Other Name

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Roderick Cameron

Published May 2021 in International Oaks No. 32: 35–59


Languages—and oak names—evolve like biological species evolve, following processes that for Darwin were “curiously parallel.” This survey covers vernacular names in the principal languages spoken in Europe today, analyzing the origin of the names and their relationships of descent from common ancestors, as well as the systems of folk taxonomy they reveal. Most of the European words for “oak” can be traced to four ancient roots. Species names, however, are more diverse and unrelated, especially in areas of higher species diversity in Southern Europe. The concept of oaks as a single genus is clear in the languages of Northern Europe, but it is weaker in the languages spoken in the south. To what extent does the currently accepted view of the genus owe its existence to the fact that our system of classification was founded by speakers of Germanic languages?


folk systematics, folk genus, vernacular names, ethnolinguistics, etymology, Proto-Indo-European


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