The animal turn in sociolinguistics: examining the dairy cow in introspecies and interspecies interaction.
Animals do produce meaningful sounds but as linguists we don’t invest in understanding animals. Why is that the case? since biologists and ethologists and neurologists examine the meaning-making potential of animal interaction as it takes place ‘by sounds, movements, postures, touch, scents or electricity and it is received by the sense organs’ (Håkansson & Westander 2013: 23). A dolphin, just like a humpback and killer whale, undergoes vocal learning in the first year of her life and she uses a whistle to inform her mother about her position, and whether she wants to rest near her. Dolphin whistles have an individual signature for kin recognition (Håkansson & Westander 2013). Themes of humpback whale songs change over the years, hence, are probably culturally transmitted whereas killer whale songs also express dialects between different groups with a sequential order of units that looks like human syntax (Håkansson & Westander 2013). A chicken produces about 24 different sounds expressing various alarm (air or ground predator) and food calls but also calls consisting of elements that can be sorted into antithetical pairs: soft, low-pitched, and clear notes are all elements used that attract other chickens, whereas long and high-pitched notes, and hissing sounds are elements used to repel (Colias 1987). A chicken, like a human, uses referential communication eliciting an appropriate behavioural response in other chicken, also in the absence of contextual clues (Evans 1997: 104-105). Neuroscientists who use machine-learning systems with algorithms detect patterns in large collections of data, for instance, in the whistles, trills, twitters, grunts, hiccups, and hisses made by naked mole rats showing that not each mole rat has its own vocal signature but also that groupings of them have distinct dialects (Barker et al, 2020).
In this presentation I will discuss the meaning-making potential of dairy cows and hope to show how important it is in times of climate change, decreasing biodiversity and mass distinction we linguists use our knowledge and tools to analyse what they are doing.
About the ACLC seminar series
The ACLC seminar series is a two weekly lecture series organized by the ACLC, the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication.