Geologist unifies conversations about the planet

When geosciences professor Grenville Draper set out to find a way to better communicate with his colleagues in Latin America, he never imagined his efforts would result in the most downloaded paper on FIU Digital Commons.

Draper, a British-born geologist, has spent much of his career studying plate tectonics in Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Caribbean. Often struggling to find just the right words, Draper decided to create a bilingual, portable glossary he could quickly and easily refer to when preparing for formal talks or having lunch with colleagues in the Dominican Republic.

Grenville Draper engages in field work in Santa Barbara de Samana, Dominican Republic.

Grenville Draper leads a field trip in Santa Barbara de Samana, Dominican Republic during the 18th Caribbean Geological Conference.

“When researchers write scientific papers for international distribution, they are typically written in English,” Draper said. “It’s problematic because if they want to write local reports, talk to local counterparts about what they’re doing, or teach introductory courses and workshops in Spain or Latin America, most dictionaries do not contain many geological terms.”

Using a word list produced by the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez as a starting point, Draper got to work. He inputted the words into a database and consulted textbooks and scholarly journals from the U.S., Spain, Latin America and the Caribbean to account for regional variations in geologic vocabulary.

According to Draper, much of Spanish-language academic literature is written in regional language, so he tried to account for as many variations from throughout the Spanish-speaking world. For example, a sinkhole in Spain is referred to as “un sumidero,” but in parts of Latin America, locals may refer to the natural depression in the Earth’s surface as “un crater” for crater, “un pozo negro” for a black hole, “una torca,” “una casimba,” or simply “un hueco” meaning a hole.

With so many ways to describe just one natural phenomenon, the English/Spanish – Spanish/English Dictionary of Geological Terms helps unify global conversations about how the planet has evolved and how it works.

First published in 1987, the dictionary was uploaded to FIU Digital Commons in 2005. The university’s digital repository is used to archive and disseminate FIU’s scholarly and creative output.

In 11 years, the English/Spanish – Spanish/English Dictionary of Geological Terms has been downloaded nearly 28,400 times in nearly 90 countries, making it the most downloaded paper in the repository’s history. Most of the downloads originate in the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Spain.

The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México is among the nearly 540 institutions who have downloaded the glossary, and it boasts the largest number of downloads to date. Ricardo Barragán Manzo, a professor in the university’s Department of Paleontology, says he and other professors recommend it to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Manzo, an FIU alumnus who used the dictionary while working towards a Ph.D. in Geosciences, says students enrolled in courses such as petrology, geology, engineering and marine sciences benefit from the open-access to the bilingual glossary.

“This dictionary is still relevant today, because glossaries like these are hard to find,” Draper said. “I hope this fulfills the need for a portable, user-friendly and inexpensive glossary for those who have to work in both languages. I also hope it helps Spanish-speaking geologists with the English vocabulary they need to publish their papers internationally.”