Animal/Language: An Interdisciplinary Conference
Animals and language have a complicated relationship with one another in human understanding. Every period of history evinces a fascination with the diverse modes of communicative exchange and possibilities of linguistic community that exist both within and between species. Recent critics of anthropocentrism are far from the first to question the supposed muteness of the “dumb animal”
and its ontological and ethical ramifications. Various cultures have historically attributed language to animals, and we have developed an increasingly sophisticated scientific understanding of the
complex non-verbal communicative systems that animals use among themselves. New research complements millennia of human-animal communication in the contexts of work, play, and
Some people have extensive experience with real, live
animals. Some primarily encounter animals as products of the food industry. Some focus on animal representations in text or image, or deploy the abstract figure of “the animal” as limit or counterpart of the human. These interactions condition different ways of “thinking with animals,” including: using them in and as language or in experimentation, recruiting them as symbols and metaphors, incorporating them into idiomatic expressions, projecting moral values onto them, and ventriloquizing them for purposes of cultural critique. A vast archive of literary, artistic, philosophical, historical, religious, and scientific explorations testifies that the boundaries and complementarities relating animals and language have always captured the human imagination.