[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J32, 2003, pp24-28]

Reform of Chemical Language as a Model for Spelling Reform.

Hans-Richard Sliwka.

Dr. Sliwka studied at the French-German bilingual University of Fribourg in Switzerland. His Ph.D. thesis in organic chemistry was written in simplified German, without pseudo-etymological ph, th, rh. The English summary. was calligrated in Shavian. The thesis was initially refused on the grounds that it used non-standard spelling. Since this transgressed the elementary rules of academic freedom, Hans appealed. He won his appeal and received his Ph.D. degree by a judicial decision. [1]

Abstract: In 1787, four scientists replaced the traditional alchemical language with a new, systematic nomenclature for inorganic chemistry. The new idiom was accepted in a relatively short time against massive resistance. The nomenclature of organic chemistry was slowly and collectively developed by many chemists and implemented over a long time. Once the naming systems were established, the reforming clan ceased. Chemical nomenclature exemplifies the conditions necessary for a successful language change and illustrates the reluctance for subsequent reforms.

1. introduction.

Orthografy reformers ignore chemistry. Chemists ignore orthografy reforms. Both groups do not know that chemists fought in the forefront of spelling reforms: Pauli in Germany, [2] Arndt in Turkey, [3] or have actively promoted Esperanto and Ido: Ostwald in Germany, [4] Berthelot in France, Ramsay in England. [5].

Chemists communicate in a highly elaborated alfabetic and symbolic language. The chemical nomenclature is a predominant literary language. Only short names are spoken, the official, sometimes very long terms are replaced by trivial names or are uncanonically abbreviated for oral communication. The chemical nomenclature works with a distinct syntax and semantic, but is not suited for textual sentences. Structures are drawn according to specific rules.

Kant defined "natural science" by the amount of mathematics encountered in a discipline. [6] Concerning chemistry Kant is wrong. Modern chemistry did not emerge because it was linked to mathematics but to linguistics. [7] Chemistry has a distinct filological base. This is witnessed by Buffon, a contemporary during the embryonic days of chemistry: "Cette science va donc naître puis qu'on commence à la parler". [8]

2. naturally language grown to a dead end.

From the very beginning chemistry has played a dual role. [9] Chemical methods were used in daily and industrial preoccupations such as baking, preserving, metallurgy, military. At the same time, the transformation of ores into metals or of an inoffensive fruit juice into a delirium creating drink was associated with divine power: Thot, Hermes or Merkur helped to melt metals, [10] Dyonisos was responsible for wine processing. Chemistry, therefore, has been a merger of practical and theosofical science. This duality developed a rich terminology. The oldest known chemical documents originate from Egypt and China. [11] Greek scientists developed a chemical language with abundant picto- and logograms, Figure. [11] [12] The applied chemist used this lingua franca to protocol the state of the art in his work. On the other hand, the adept, aspiring the magical filosofer's stone, was not interested in the propagation of his findings. Transmutation experiments were therefore written in cryptograms. [13] The mnemonic shorthand writing of the iatrochemists, the old farmaceutists, were then added to the vocabulary of the esoterically or pragmatically oriented chemists. Accumulated over time a multitude of names and signs resulted for a single object. [11] [14]

In the 18th century the chemical idiom had become complicated to such a degree that even highly instructed chemists had communication difficulties. The old language of chemistry was no longer adequate to describe the results of a new arising scientific theory.

3. reform.

Some chemists tried to revitalize the traditional chemical language. The French Macquer classified in 1766 the existing compounds, related them to the known symbols and coined some new names. [15] The Belgian chemist van Bochaute proposed in 1787 a cautious revision. [16] A more foregoing reformer was the Swedish chemist Bergman who, in 1775, gave many old names a systematic denomination. [17] However, Bergman was too entrenched in the old conceptions. Afraid to break with long-standing traditions he did not apply his own proposals in his late articles. No such scruples had the French chief district attorney and amateur-chemist Luis Bernard Guyton de Morveau. In 1782 he developed a new naming system and resolutely promulgated it in scientific and popular lectures and articles. [18] Guyton submitted his proposals to the Academie des Sciences in Paris. There, Guyton's ideas were much welcomed by the ambitious and multitalented Antoine Laurent Lavoisier. Lavoisier had just experimentally proven that the theoretical base of chemistry at these days, the flogiston theory, was a blunder. [19]

4. revolution.

Lavoisier was fully aware that facts alone were not sufficient to establish a new theory. Lavosisier had studied the works of the filosofer Condillac, who had declared: "L'art de raisonner se reduit à une langue bien faite." [19] [20] For Lavoisier it was impossible to isolate nomenclature from chemistry and chemistry from nomenclature. Guyton's naming scheme came therefore just in time. The practical approach of Guyton were coupled with the scientific and linguistic knowledge of Lavoiser. Both constructed within few months a new nomenclature system, which was critically discussed with two other chemists, Berthollet and Fourcroy. In 1787, the joined efforts of the 4 chemists were presented in the book: Méthode de la nomenclature chimique. [21] This œvre marks the transition from alchemistry to modern chemistry. The new nomenclature is an example of language construction in a similar manner Zamenhof 100 years later assembled Esperanto. [22] Lavoisier was aware that the new nomenclature was less a reform but rather a revolution, a brusque and painful rupture with the past. [23] Another language revolution with high impact for chemists, though linguistically localized, happened in 1929, when Atatürk changed script and vocabulary.

5. resistance.

The "Méthode de la nomenclature chimique" deeply shocked the chemical community. The new proposals were either discarded outright or heavily criticized:
Fundamental critics came from anglofone chemists: James Keir objected that language is a common property of all and no authority, only universal consent, can alter the idiom. [29] Priestley, Cavendish, Black, Davy, Kirwan wanted neutral names, unrelated to any theoretical consideration. [30] [31] Kirwan also remarked that the classical authors of chemistry. would become unintelligible by adopting the new nomenclature. [32] Cavendish, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin profetized that the new nomenclature will be rejected. [33] Guyton retorted that the objectors obviously want to sacrify the new names for habitude: "Le retourk à d'anciennes denomination nous paroît faire reculer la science". [24]

6. implementation.

Criticized worldwide by th most reputed chemists th futur of th new nomenclatur did not look very promisng in 1787. Nevrthless, aftr less than 20 years of strugl, th new nomenclatur was worldwide acceptd. Wat made th new nomenclatur succeed?

A. Th traditionl ordr of society with ranks, classes and old valus was seriusly questiond in France in th 70s and 80s of th 18th century. Creating new names wer part of the instigation in these days. [34]

B. A jenrl espri of chanje was also detectbl in many proposals to improve french orthografy. Voltaire in 1771 rote: "L'écriture est la peinture de la voix, plus elle est ressemblante, mieux est elle". [35] Domergue fot at the same time for a fonetic ritn french. [35]

C. Ther was a leadng case in creating a new nomenclatur. Biolojy sufrd from uncountable difrnt plant names. Th swedish biolojist Linné had introduced in 1753 a binomial latn naming systm for intrnationl comunication. [36]

D. Th old chemicl doctrin had acumulated too many anomlis at th end of th 18th century. Th proposed timid reforms of Macquer and Bergman wer not user-frendly enuf. [15] [17] Ther was an urjnt need for a distinct languaj wen Morveau and Lavoiser presentd ther proposals.

E. Lavoisier and his coleags linkd ther nomenclatur to a new sientific theory. Those ho turnd to th new theory wer oblijed to accept th adjoined nomenclatur.

F. A main advantaj of th new nomenclatur was th esy lernng by untraind students. Teachng th novl systm drasticly reduced th time-consuming introductry corses to chemicl nomenclatur. Even convinced oponents to th new languaj admitd its pedagogical merits. [37]

7. weakness.

Guyton and Lavoisier probbly new about th spelng proposals of Domergue and Voltaire. With i for y (hidrogène, oxigène) they folod th proposed reduction of etymological riting. But exept for this uniqe case, Guyton and Lavoisier rote ther new nomenclatur in french traditionl orthografy. Th zeal in creating betr names was not mirrd in betr spelng. Biolojy replaced a nationl with an intrnationl naming sceme, wheras chemistry chanjed from an intrnationl to a nationl systm. [38] This had far going consequences for th chemists. They canot recognize many old elemnt and compound names wen readng articls in difrnt languajs. Sulfr is rikki (finish), qe...on (greek), hen (hungarian), enxôfre (portugese), kukurt (turkish). [39] By retainng latn or greek names chemists myt hav avoid recognition problms. Indeed, farmacists rely on latn in naming chemicl compounds. But difrnt cuntris hav diverjnt latn names for a givn compound and homeopaths do not converse in th same latn as do classicl doctrs, e.g argentum nitricum - argentii nitras, ammonium muriaticum - ammonium chloridum. [40]

Name Changes

by Lavoisier and Guyton [21]

before 1787after 1787 later changes
air phlogistiqué
air déphlogistiqué
gaz inflammable
gaz hépatique
alkali fixe végétale
alkali minéral
alkali volatil
fleurs de zinc
precipité per se
terre des os
foies de soudre alkalin
tartre vitriolé
acide marin
gaz azotique
gaz hydrogène sulfuré
oxide de zinc
oxide de mercure
phosphate calcaire
sulfure de potasse
sulfate de potasse
acide muriatique
hydrogen sulfide

zinc oxide

calcium phosphate

potassium sulfate
hydrogen chloride

8. evolution.

Th anticlerical hobby chemist Guyton did not succeed in chanjing his coleags to fervnt agnostics. Chemists continud to beleve in divine oprations. Th synthesis of compounds from livng orgnism was considrd imposbl without th "vital force". Only in 1828, wen Wöhler synthesized urea with educts from th mind world, "vital force" was abandnd. [41]

Th urea synthesis marks th begin of organic chemistry, defined as th chemistry of carbn compounds, in contrast to inorganic chemistry, wich deals with al othr elemnts. [42]

Wheras th nomenclatur of inorganic chemistry was constructd by 4 chemists, numerus chemists participated in th developmnt of th mor complicated naming systm of organic chemistry. Th proposals wer openly disputed in sientific jurnls during many years. [43] Nonthless, th nown chemist Kolbe considrd any efrt to develop a nomenclatur for organic chemistry a waste of time, he predictd that such a systm wud not survive mor than 10 years. [44] Aftr al, th intrnationl nomenclatur congresses in Karlsruhe (1860) and Geneva (1892) agreed on th principls of a systmatic naming systm. At a 3rd confrnce (Liège 1930) th nomenclatur standrds of organic chemistry wer establishd. [45] Since then, amelioration, and developmnt of nomenclatur is th mandate of th International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). A privat Americn compny, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), has since 1969 th monoply for rejistrng new compounds, with its own naming systm. Th CAS-nomenclatur can be considrd a litry languaj, wile th IUPAC dialect represents th populr vocablry.

Th implmntation of th organic nomenclatur was much esir than that of inorganic chemistry:

9. constructed languages.

For sientific comunication on an intrnationl levl a languaj has to satisfy importnt quality criteria. A tru lingua franca shud be user-frendly, precise, unequivocl and esy to lern, th languaj shud oprate with short, eufonically pronounceable words and shud be ritn in a fonetic manr. [47] Ramsay, Cotton, Becquerel, Thomson [48], Diesel [49] asumed that non of th contextul languajs custmry in sience (english, french, jermn, latn, greek) wud meet these quality criteria. [50] Consequently, many sientists enthusiasticly welcmd constructd world languajs. [48] Nobel award winr Wilhelm Ostwald almost gave up chemistry in favor of propagating ido. [4] [51] In 1952 apeard Spectroscopia Molecular, a jurnl entirely ritn in interlingua. [52]

Th "discovrs" of Flatland and Astria documntd a hy degree of fantasy, but, astonishngly, th Flatland creators wer unable to imajn that ritn comunication in a 2D-world cud be difmt from tradition) orthografies. Even flatland sientists hav to bothr with sudo-etymological ph's: elemnt 9 in th planiverse was named aluphoros (Ap), elemnt 11 chlophorus (Cp). [53] A simlr lak of imajnation is also observd on th iland Utopia. Thomas More gave th utopians an own languaj and alfabet, but he did not replace th utopian syns for ph with ? = f in gymnosophon (filosofy). [54]


[1] HR. Sliwka, syntese von modellsubstanzen für die Raman optische aktivität spektroskopi, submitted 1983, not accepted by the University of Fribourg in the original script. The Lionspaw font is http://www.shavian.f9.co.uk/fonts.html

[2] HR. Sliwka, chemi and ortografi. Chemie in unserer Zeit 1997, 31, 32.

[3] W. Walter, B. Eistert, Fritz Arndt 1885-1969, Chemische Berichte 1975, 108, 1, XXI. The German chemist F. Arndt was the only nonTurkish participant in Atatürk's language reform committee.

[4] W. Ostwald, Chemische Weltliteratur, Zeitschrift für Physikalische Chemie 1911, 76, 1.

[5] E. Wüster, Internationale Sprachnormung in der Technik, Bouvier, Bonn 1970, p.359.

[6] I. Kant, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft, Hartknoch, Riga 1786, Vorrede p.8,9.

[7] H. Cottez, Les bases épistemologiques et linguistiques de la nomenclature chimique de 1787, Meta 1994, 39, 676.

[8] GLL. Buffon, Indroduction à l'histoire des mineraux, Paris, 1774.

[9] H. Kopp, Geschichte der Chemie, Vieweg, Braunschweig 1843, 1. Teil, p.8

[10] MY. Haschmi, Enträtselung der Alchemie, Chemiker Zeitung 1966, 90, 534.

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[13] F. Hoefer, Historie de la chimie, Diderot, Paris 1866, p.259

[14] MP. Crosland, Historical studies in the language of chemistry, Dover Publications, New York 1978, pp.3-62, 66.

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[19] AL. de Lavoisier, Traité élementaire de chimie, Paris 1789, reédition Imprimerie Impériale, Paris 1864.

[20] TJ. Taylor, Condillac: language as an analytical method, Language Communication 1989, 9, 289.

[21] LB. Guyton de Morveau, AL. de Lavoisier, CL. Berthollet, AF. Fourcroy, Méthode de la nomenclature chimique, Cuchet, Paris 1787.

[22] LL. Zamenhof, Lingvo internacia. Antauxparolo kaj plena lernolibroì, de d-ro Esperanto, Warsawa 1887.

[23] E. Engels in K. Marx, Das Kapital, Meissner, Hamburg 1893, 2. Auflage, Vorwort, p.22.

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[27] M. Beretta, The enlightenment of matter, Science History Publications, Canton MA (USA) 1993, pp.230, 289-322.

[28] Crosland [14], pp.187-214.

[29] Beretta [27], p.291.

[30] Crosland [14], p.196.

[31] Kopp [9], p.419.

[32] Beretta [27], p.299.

[33] Beretta [27], p.235.

[34] H. Walter, La créativité lexicale à l'époque de la revolution française, La Linguistique 1989, 25, 3.

[35] M. Keller, Ein Jahrhundert Reform der franzödsischen Orthographie - Geschichte eines Scheiterns, Dissertation Universität Tübingen 1989, Stauffenberg, Tubingen 1991, p.9.

[36] Crosland [14], p.140.

[37] Beretta [27], p. 237.

[38] Beretta [27], pp. 289-322.

[39] GW. Kutney, K. Turnbull, The sulfur chemist, Journal of Chemical education 1984, 61, 372.

[40] Proposal for a revised international nomenclature system of homeopathic remedies, European Committee for medical homeopathy, April 1999.

[41] F. Wöhler, letter to Berzelius, 22.2.1828, Über die künstliche Herstellung von Harnstoff, in G. Bugge, Das Buch der grossen Chemiker, Verlag Chemie, Berlin 1930, p.38.

[42] & [43] A few carbon compounds are part of inorganic chemistry: carbides, carbonates, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide PE. Verkade, Etudes historiques sur la nomenclaturee la chimie organique, 16 papers, last paper with reference to the precedent papers in: Bulletin de la Société de Chimie de France 1979 II, 75, 215.

[44] Handöterterbuch der reinen and angewandten Chemie, Herausgeber J. Liebig, JC. Poggendorf, F. Wöhler, redigiert von H. Kolbe, Vieweg, Braunschweig 1851, Vol.5, p.606.

[45] Crosland [14] pp. 342-354.

[46] Chemical Name Laboratory, Advanced Chemistry development Inc., Toronto (Canada); Beilstein- and CAS online database.

[47] Wüster 151, p. 86.

[48] Wüster 151, p. 362.

[49] Wüster 151, p. 369.

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[58] HR. Sliwka, khyrhphthquecßtvch, Nachrichten aus Chemie, Technik and Laboratorium, 1990, 38, 474.

[59] Patterson [55], pp. 33, 41.

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[65] K. Hirayama, The HIRN system - Nomenclature of organic chemistry - Principles, Maruzen, Springer Tokyo 1983.

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[70] M. Azmi, Kýmya-yi Sinai, Sanayi Mektebi Matbaasý, Istanbul 1925.

[71] E Faik, Uzvî Kimya, Necmi ýstikbal.

Editor's Afterward:

 The representation of scientific words is a major problem for spelling reformers because while most scientific names are based on Latin and Greek roots, they are not pronounced as in Italian. Respelling these words to reflect how they are pronounced in English would obscure their roots and their international clarity. [There is an illustration of how chemical names change over time].

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