I think the issue is more historical than style manuals. Historically, species
common names in English have not been considered to be proper nouns. This is
evident in any dictionary, and dictionaries (originally) provided definitions
based on the way words have been used throughout history. It is not a problem
understanding a species concept. Everyone can tell the difference between a
'dog' and a 'cat', including the scholars who prepared the dictionaries. It is
a lack of respect for species as important things or 'Proper nouns'.
Many people argue that species names are not proper nouns, and leave it there,
as though that is a self-evident argument.
A proper noun is a name that represents a unique entity. It seems to
me entirely inconsistent that species names are not considered to be proper
nouns by dictionaries and style manuals and so forth, but the following
geographical localities, planets, corporations, institutions, roads, buildings,
bridges, people, languages, cultures, food dishes, days of the week, months,
holidays, festivals, wars, weather-events (e.g. cyclones), musical bands,
diseases, books, documents, paintings, sculptures, religions, product brands,
TV shows, web-pages....... You don't have a pet Dog called spot, you have a pet
dog called Spot.
Rather anthropomorphic, but not entirely. It reflects the historical thinking
of a species that collectively doesn't give a Rat's for other species. Birders
should know better.
BTW, the RAOU (now called 'birdlife australia'?) published a set of rules and
list of 'Recommended English Names' for Australian birds in the Emu vol. 77
Supplement in 1977 that predates Parkes 1978 and sets the basis for the names
in common use in Australia today.
From: Russ Lamb <>
To: Birding-Aus Aus <>; Carl Clifford
Cc: Sean Dooley <>
Sent: Wednesday, 11 April 2012 9:21 AM
Subject: Publishing convention re bird-names
I believe Carl is correct in nominating style manuals as the source of the
problem. There was a time when newspapers, publishing houses, government
departments etc.each had their own "style guide" (note, "guide" not "manual")
to assist internal authors with their publications. Increasingly however,
guides have given way to manuals, and the dominant one is the Federal
Government endorsed (propably too weak a description) publication "Style
manual: for authors, editors, and publishers" 6th edition (2002), which appears
to have influence in Australian publishing way beyond the Commonwealth
Government's many agencies.This manual was (to quote from the Australian
Government website) "revised for the Australian Government by a consortium of
communication and publishing professionals" and "provides guidance and
recommendations for anyone faced with the task of preparing material for
publication in either print or electronic format".
A quick glance at the members of this consortium reveals that they indeed are
involved in the publishing industry, but of more interest to me was that only
one (of at least 10) appeared to come from an academic linguistics background.
None of this answers the question posed by previous correspondents as to why
previously capitalized bird species names are no longer capitalized, but the
decision appears to be part of a broad momentum to make published works more
accessible to all readers, regardless of intended audiences and
well-established and logical linguistic conventions. It is, in effect, yet
another example of "dumbing-down" and the oxymoronic statement of "one size
I would be interested to hear what Sean Dooley, as editor of the old Wingspan
and new Australian Birdlife, thinks of the reach of style manuals, and what
guides him in publishing the magazine. (Interestingly I note in the first
edition of the magazine that the front cover uses non-capitalized "birdlife",
but the editorial refers to the magazine as " Australian Birdlife")
Russ Lamb, Maleny,SEQ