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date: 09 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

The language of chemistry has seldom been the object of study by linguists, who tend to prioritize literary works. Nevertheless, in recent years its study has developed at a different pace for each of the Romance languages. It is therefore important to describe the current state of research separately for French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Catalan. The work of historians of science, who have always dedicated particular attention to the language of chemistry, is particularly pertinent to this purpose.

Toward the end of the 18th century, French chemists spearheaded a terminological revolution: traditional terms used in alchemy were replaced by a well-structured, systematic nomenclature that was quickly adopted by the scientific community, mainly through the translation of French chemical texts, many of which were pedagogical in nature. It is important to trace the dissemination process of new chemical nomenclature in each country and in each language, since it was not uniform.

This new nomenclature is firmly based on the classical languages, particularly Greek, and it adopts a broad range of suffixes and prefixes for systematization. During the 19th century, this system steadily consolidated as the field of chemistry developed until a standardized international nomenclature was established.

From a lexicographical standpoint, the treatment of chemical terms in both general and specialized dictionaries deserves attention. Traditional lexicography has mistakenly classified many chemical terms as Hellenisms, while from the early 21st century onward they have been recognized as Gallicisms thanks to research carried out by historians of scientific language.

Finally, the procedures the Romance languages follow to coin chemical terms—both to name elements and chemicals and to express chemical combinations by means of word formation processes—must be taken into account.

Keywords: chemical terminology, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, language of chemistry, special languages history

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