Words, woofs, and whinnies: A study of human-animal language

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Brown, Claire

Brown, Claire . 2011. Words, woofs, and whinnies: A study of human-animal language -- Lambda Alpha Journal, v.41, p.53-62


Human-animal communication occurs in both verbal and nonverbal contexts to varying degrees, depending upon the breed of animal and the strength of the relationship between human and animal. This essay studies the way in which humans verbally communicate with animals in the United States, specifically examining the function that language serves in these various communicative contexts. Observational data detailing language use with horses and small domestic pets has been gathered from Red Oak Riding Center in Elkhart, Indiana, and interactions within the household, respectively. Three forms of language used to address or discuss animals in these contexts are interpreted: i) specialized animal language, ii) standard language, and iii) animal gossip. The use of these language forms is indicative of the type and strength of the relationship that is shared between human and animal. Language in a working capacity utilizes commands or sounds that do not carry a meaning in non-animal contexts, while domestic pet language ranges from 'baby talk' to full conversational frameworks. An analysis of language use is essential for understanding human-animal relationships, as language illustrates the human perception of animal identity. Verbally addressing an animal imbues it with apparent communicative abilities, illustrating the idea of 'language as action' as promoted by J. L. Austin and J. R. Seale.

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