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  • Vasu Murti
    ... EXCEPTIONAL ARTICLE ON speciesism and language. The following article appears in English Today, Vol. 19, No. 1 (2003), Cambridge University Press English
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 14, 2003
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      EXCEPTIONAL ARTICLE ON speciesism and language.

      The following article appears in English Today, Vol. 19, No. 1 (2003),
      Cambridge University Press

      English and Speciesism

      Joan Dunayer

      Standard English usage perpetuates speciesism, which is the failure to
      accord nonhuman animals equal consideration and respect. Like racism or
      sexism, speciesism is a form of prejudice sustained in part by biased,
      misleading words. However, whereas racist slurs rightly elicit censure,
      people regularly use, and fail to notice, speciesist language. Unlike
      sexist language, speciesist language remains socially acceptable even to
      people who view themselves as progressive. Speciesism pervades our
      language, from scholarly jargon to street slang. Considered in relation
      to the plight of nonhuman beings, the words of feminist poet Adrienne
      Rich express a terrible absolute: �This is the oppressor�s language.�

      Speciesist usage denigrates or discounts nonhuman animals. For example,
      terming nonhumans �it� erases their gender and groups them with
      inanimate things. Referring to them as �something� (rather than
      �someone�) obliterates their sentience and individuality. Pure
      speciesism leads people to call a brain-dead human �who� but a conscious
      pig �that� or �which.�

      Current usage promotes a false dichotomy between humans and nonhumans.
      Separate lexicons suggest opposite behaviors and attributes. We eat, but
      other animals feed. A woman is pregnant or nurses her babies; a nonhuman
      mammal gestates or lactates. A dead human is a corpse, a dead nonhuman a
      carcass or meat.

      Everyday speech denies human-nonhuman kinship. We aren�t animals,
      primates, or apes. When we do admit to being animals, we label other
      animals �lower� or �subhuman.� Dictionary definitions of man exaggerate
      human uniqueness and present characteristics typical of humans (such as
      verbal ability) as marks of superiority, especially superior
      intelligence.

      Nonhuman-animal epithets insult humans by invoking contempt for other
      species: rat, worm, viper, goose. The very word animal conveys
      opprobrium. Human, in contrast, signifies everything worthy. Like the
      remark that a woman has �the mind of a man,� the comment that a nonhuman
      is �almost human� is assumed to be praise. Both condescend.

      While boasting of �human kindness,� our species treats nonhumans with
      extreme injustice and cruelty. Directly or indirectly, most humans
      routinely participate in needless harm to other animals, especially
      their captivity and slaughter. Whereas true vegetarianism (veganism)
      promotes human health and longevity, consumption of animal-derived food
      correlates with life-threatening conditions such as heart disease,
      cancer, and hardening of the arteries. Still, our language suggests that
      humans must eat products from nonhuman bodies. As if we possessed a
      carnivore�s teeth and digestive tract, thoughtless clich� places us �at
      the top of the food chain.�

      To speciesists, needless killing is murder only if the victim is human.
      In animal �farming� and numerous other forms of institutionalized
      speciesism, nonhuman animals literally are slaves: they�re held in
      servitude as property. But few people speak of nonhuman �enslavement.�
      Many who readily condemn human victimization as �heinous� or �evil�
      regard moralistic language as sensational or overly emotional when it is
      applied to atrocities against nonhumans. They prefer to couch nonhuman
      exploitation and murder in culinary, recreational, or other
      nonmoralistic terms. That way they avoid acknowledging immorality. Among
      others, Nazi vivisectors used the quantitative language of
      experimentation for human, as well as nonhuman, vivisection.
      Slaveholders have used the economic language of farming for nonhuman and
      human enslavement. Why is such morally detached language considered
      offensive and grotesque only with regard to the human victims?

      The media rarely acknowledge nonhuman suffering. Only human misfortune
      garners strong words like tragic and terrible. When thousands of U.S.
      cattle, left in the blazing sun on parched land, die from heat and lack
      of water, reporters note the losses �suffered� by their enslavers.

      Belittling words minimize nonhuman suffering and death. As expressed in
      a New York magazine caption, antivivisectionists �oppose testing on any
      creature�even a mouse.� The word even ranks a mouse below humans in
      sensitivity and importance. There�s no reason to believe that mice
      experience deprivation and pain less sharply than we do or value their
      lives less, but our language removes them from moral consideration. Who
      cares if millions of mice and rats are vivisected each year? They�re
      �only rodents.� What does it matter if billions of chickens live in
      misery until they die in pain and fear? They�re �just chickens.�

      In speciesism�s fictitious world, nonhumans willingly participate in
      their own victimization. They �give� their lives in vivisection and the
      food industry.

      Further belying victimization, the language of speciesist exploitation
      renders living animals mindless and lifeless. They�re �crops,� �stock,�
      hunting �trophies,� and vivisection �tools.�

      Category labels born of exploitation imply that nonhuman beings exist
      for our use. Furbearer tags a nonhuman person a potential pelt. Circus
      animal suggests some natural category containing hoop-jumping tigers and
      dancing bears, nonhumans of a �circus� type. The verbal trick makes
      deprivation and coercion disappear.

      Evil gathers euphemisms. Over millennia, speciesism has compiled a hefty
      volume. Wildlife management sanctions the bureaucratized killing of
      free-living nonhumans. Leather and pork serve as comfortable code for
      skin and flesh. Domestication softens captivity, subjugation, and forced
      breeding.

      Positive words glamorize humans� ruthless genetic manipulation of other
      species. Horses inbred for racing are �thoroughbreds.� However afflicted
      with disabilities, dogs inbred for human pleasure and use are
      �purebreds,� while the fittest mixed-breed dogs are �mongrels� and
      �mutts.�

      With complimentary self-description, humans exonerate themselves of
      wrongdoing. Food-industry enslavement and slaughter cause suffering and
      death of colossal magnitude. Yet, consumers of flesh, eggs, and nonhuman
      milk count themselves among �animal lovers.�

      Currently, misleading language legitimizes and conceals the
      institutionalized abuse of nonhuman animals. With honest, unbiased
      words, we can grant them the freedom and respect that are rightfully
      theirs.

      Joan Dunayer is a writer whose publications include articles on language
      and animal rights. Her work has appeared in journals, magazines, college
      English textbooks, and anthologies. A former college English instructor,
      she has master�s degrees in English education, English literature, and
      psychology. She is the author of Animal Equality: Language and
      Liberation (Derwood, Maryland: Ryce Publishing, 2001), the first book on
      speciesism and language.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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