Tag Archives: Language

Colonizing England and the Naming of Animals

 

While many recognize Great Britain as a great imperialist power responsible for untold suffering over the centuries, some might be surprised to learn that the island itself was the site of extensive colonization prior to medieval times. Historians have described it as a sort of “back water” with little political influence, making it an easy target for neighboring powers. There were the Vikings, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Normans, all staking their claim at one point or another. With colonization came pillaging and war, but also significant cultural shifts.

Many of the stone fortresses that non-Brits associate with the English landscape were a result of the Norman takeover in 1066 following the Battle of Hastings. They were built to secure their new rule in this foreign kingdom. The Normans also brought with them French culture and immediately began to usurp land and money, ousting the majority of the old Anglo-Saxon elite. But the takeover required more than castles, land, and money, it also required some manipulation of the symbolic landscape.

Sociologists argue that language holds a certain power: it can uphold particular social norms and reinforce social hierarchies. This is why vegan sociologists often place the word “meat” in quotation marks, or refer to animals as “nonhuman animals.” Using language in this way can disrupt oppressive values and force the reader or listener to think critically about their relationship with the oppressed. Sometimes, marginalized groups will actively seek to associate with language that empowers them. For instance, in an article published with T.O.F.U. Magazine, I discuss how parents will sometimes name their daughters male names in order to improve their social status (parents will also stop naming their male children these names as they become “contaminated” with femininity).

Following the Norman conquest, an interesting phenomenon took place in the British language. The new elites tended to be French, while the large majority of the population were poor farmers who were Anglo-Saxon. The French language became a marker of privilege. William and other Norman names became quite popular in England, even among the peasants (The Battle of Hastings was won by England’s new Norman king, William the Conqueror).  By the end of the Middle Ages, the English language had absorbed quite a bit of French (as it had with a number of other languages like Latin, Gaelic, and German), but there was a time when status was tied to an association with French culture.

This is the interesting part for animal studies scholars: following the conquest, two separate languages were used to describe Nonhuman Animals, and this was based on their class association. Animals that were muddy, stinky, brutish, and still alive, were referred to in Anglo-Saxon English. Once butchered, cooked, and served at the table in a “refined” state that no longer resembles the living creature it once was, the corpse was referred to in French terminology. Pig was English; Pork was French. Sheep was English; Mutton was French. Cow was English; Beef was French.

The word “shambles” is also Old English in origin and refers to a slaughterhouse or butcher’s shop (the popular phrase “My life is a shambles” literally means that it is as messy and chaotic as a slaughterhouse). Incidentally, the French term abattoir did not come into common English use until the 19th century. Association with the “unrefined” matter of Nonhuman Animal “husbandry” and slaughter was a mark of low class status. Adding to this association, only wealthy Norman elites could afford to eat Nonhuman Animal products. Impoverished Anglo-Saxon peasants ate mostly plant-based diets.

This linguistic history, I think, demonstrates a very interesting linkage between colonization, class, and speciesism. Nonhuman Animals simply become political objects used to reinforce social hierarchies, meaning that their suffering goes unacknowledged by historians. Nonetheless, it makes for an interesting case for the entanglement of human and nonhuman oppression.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Readability of Vegan Outreach Literature

effective-animal-advocacy

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Humane Research Council.  2011.  Readability of Vegan Outreach Literature.  HRC:  Olympia, WA.

Increasingly, advocates are becoming aware of how whiteness, class, and privilege have shaped the anti-speciesism movement in a way that makes it almost inaccessible to disadvantaged populations.  The fact that most vegan literature reads at a level far beyond that of the average American speaks volumes to the lack of reflexivity in anti-speciesism outreach.

Literacy inequality especially impacts people of color, non-natives, people living in poverty, and others subject to educational barriers.  This report shows that the movement is shaped by well off, educated white elites writing about ethics in language and conceptual frameworks that only other privileged persons can understand.  This significantly restricts the ability of the movement to expand.

vegan-outreach-literature

Summary of Results (from report):

  • The average U.S. adult has a 9th or 10th grade reading level, and 44% of adults have an 8th grade reading level or lower.
  • HRC recommends developing vegan outreach materials at a 7th or 8th grade reading level in order to ensure comprehensibility for a large proportion of the target audience.
  • However, all of the vegan outreach materials evaluated in the current study are written at an 11th grade reading level or higher, indicating that the vegetarian movement’s most popular materials might be incomprehensible to half or more of the target audience.
  • Based on six readability tests, the average readability scores ranged from a low reading level of 11th grade for PCRM’s vegetarian starter kit to a high of 15th grade (beyond college level) for the Humane Myth brochure.
  • Additional research including focus groups (and possibly one-on-one interviews) would allow a more comprehensive evaluation of the materials beyond basic readability. HRC recommends a collaboration to conduct additional qualitative research at a cost of $8,000 to $12,000.

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about effective Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 3, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Animals and Women

women-and-other-animals

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan.  1995.  Animals and Women:  Feminist Theoretical Explorations.  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press.

This edited book encapsulates vegan feminist theory, arguing that all oppressions are interconnected and that we must challenge human-biased theorizing:  “[ . . . ] the male pattern of female subordination and degradation, which is nearly universal in human societies, is prototypical for many other forms of abuse [ . . . ]” (7).

animals-and-womenSeveral chapters stood out to me as especially interesting and relevant.  Dunayer’s chapter on speciesist and sexist language demonstrates the power of ideology in normalizing oppression.  Comniou’s chapter on free speech also speaks to the power of language (and that “freedom of speech” is a right typically only granted to privileged groups).  Birke’s chapter on science and rationality discusses the history of male ideologies and institutions in legitimizing oppression and marginalization.  Adams’ chapter on violence against animals and women is a difficult read, but highlights many disturbing linkages.  Chapters in Part Two were a little more humanities-focused, and not as relevant to my interest in effective animal advocacy.  However, I found Luke’s chapter on patriarchal constructions of animal rights especially illuminating, as was Kappeler’s extensions on male supremacy in science and knowledge production.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the importance of feminism, intersectionality, and efficacy research in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 26, 2013.

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Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn featured on Maine Public Radio

Vegan Feminist Network

Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn was featured on Maine public radio, Animal Sounds on WMPG 90.9FM on July 13th, 2016 to discuss Vegan Feminist Network advocacy strategies. In this 30 minute program Dr. Wrenn addresses intersections of sexism, speciesism, ableism and more in colloquially used oppressive language. You can listen by clicking here.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about how to challenge oppressive ideologies in vegan advocacy and the importance of a pro-intersectional approach in Dr. Wrenn’s 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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