Should we attempt to approximate the chinese pronunciation of chinese dinosaur names, or pronounce them as though they were english or latin?

It would be nice to show some respect to the Chinese (or any other language) and try to pronouce the names as they are meant to be pronounced - it always makes me cringe the way some Japanese words are pronounced such as "sake" or "karaoke", the correct Japanese pronunciation is "SAH-KEH" and "KAH-RAH-OH-KEH".

However, having said that, some pronunciations are just plainly near-impossible for the rest of us - for instance, as I understand it the Chinese have a special way of pronouncing words beginning with "X" that I shamefully can never get it right. So, I think it is understandable for us to latinise or Anglicanise foreign pronunciations...

To  be fair ...

It's not just scientific names: in English-speaking countries, the capital of France is pronounced Parriss (rhymes with Rolf Harris), not Paree.  All our dinosaur names that are derived from Latin words get pronounced in ways that no ancient Roman would have been able to make head or tail of.  I think it's an inevitable process, in the absence of guidance.  It's only really a problem when people from different countries talk past each other.  I remember at SVPCA a few years ago (2005?) listening Andreas Christian talking about sauropod neck posture, and repeatedly hearing the name "Oi-o-LOPH-us", which I assumed was some kind of hadrosaur related to Saurolophus.  No -- it was Euhelopus, which I've always pronounced "YOO-hell-OH-pus".

(That's why, in the paper where Darren and I named Xenoposeidon, we included a statement of how we intend it to be pronounced.)

Mike Taylor wrote:

(That's why, in the paper where Darren and I named Xenoposeidon, we included a statement of how we intend it to be pronounced.)

Brilliant idea! I hope this practice becomes more widely spread.

It is starting to become more common, but obviously for older names it is a problem. And working as a palaeontologist, I can add a little more in that for names given by Chinese researchers to animals that use only Western style words the problem still exists in reverse. Microraptor is often pronounced "My-ro-rap-or" becuase the Chinese have probloems with the harder syllables, so even they struggle with their own names sometimes.

Without providing phonetic spellings for names there is little chance that scientific names will be pronounced properly (good work Mike on providing this). But I agree with Dave - old names are a problem and are often given an incorrect phonetic spelling where one is provided, due to common usage. I have seen museums and books with Triceratops as Try-sera-tops rather than Try-kera-tops, but the Greek "C" should be hard. A part of the problem with working out how things should be pronounced is the mixture of classical languages in use, since most people don't study Latin and even fewer, ancient Greek.

I heartily reccomend a recent New scientist article about how language gets distorted by cultures unable to pronounce various phenomes/syllables.

(see the issue from the 29th March, 2008)

Paulo, I think that the soft-C pronunciation of Triceratops is now so unanimously established that it has to be considered not just irresistible but "correct".  But Matt Wedel and I sometimes like to refer to it as "tricker-AY-tops", and imagine it locked in combat with its mortal enemy Tirran-OH-serrus (rhymes with rhinoceros).

One name this is widely pronounced in two different ways is Diplodocus, which you can hear pronounced both as Dip-LOD-uh-cuss and Dip-loe-DOE-cuss.  I think it's close to unique in that the world seems to be split about 50-50 ... well, unique unless you count the scone-sconne controversy, anyway!  I even find myself inconsistent in pronouncing Diplodocus-dervied names: I usually pronounce the family name Diplodocidae as "Dip-loe-DOC-ih-day", but the superfamily name Diplodocoidea as "Dip-loe-doc-OID-ee-uh".  Which just goes to show, or something.

You say to-mate-oh, I say to-mah-toe...

In reality does it matter so long as we all understand one another? I think not.

In France we have a tradition to pronounce foreign names the french way especially when talking to other french. It is not contempt, but merely acknowledgement that the phonetic difference will make any futile attempts to enunciate foreign words a new language at best, recognizable neither by french or by the foreigners in question.
I think Paolo is right to underline that the important point is to match your audience rather than exact philology

I guess we can all agree on that.

Unfortunately, it does rather mean that you need to learn a different set of pronunciations depending on who you're talking to ... which pretty much undermines the point of having standardised scientific names in the first place.

So on second thoughts, maybe I don't agree with that.

I don't really have a better solution, though.

Just type the name into Microsoft Sam and go with whatever comes out. At least it would be a standard.