24 December 2003

Richard D. Ryder on Speciesist Language

Some aspects of the language I use may surprise the reader. This is because I have tried, when appropriate in the context, to dismantle the speciesism inherent in the words we use. Phrases like 'men and animals', for example, insult not only women but nonhumans also, for humans are animals too.

Using the word 'animal' in opposition to the word 'human' is clearly an expression of prejudice. So how can this be avoided when describing those sentient creatures who are not of the human species? Does a phrase such as 'animals and human animals' help? It might, but it is rather clumsy. Slightly less cumbersome is the phrase 'nonhuman animal' and its inevitable abbreviation 'nonhuman'. To some this may itself sound speciesist, in that it could be asserting that human is the norm and that nonhuman is inferior. All I can say is that no such inferiority is intended or understood. In the absence of other appropriate words I use 'nonhuman' or 'nonhuman animal' in the hope that their use reminds the reader, as it does me, of the kinship between those of my own species and others.

Admittedly, in dealing with the past, it is difficult to use new terms and concepts consistently, so the early chapters do contain some speciesist phrasing. I defend the use of the word 'animal' in the title on the grounds that the revolution to which I refer applies to the human animal as well as to others; and because the revolution, to a large extent, is about the concept of 'animal' itself.

The hostility towards so-called ant[h]ropomorphism during this century has been so extreme that the use of certain adjectives, pronouns such as 'he' or 'she' and verbs in a nonhuman context has been abhorred, particularly by those intellectuals who should have known better. Nevertheless, if I believe it appropriate I have, and without shame, deliberately attributed behavioural and emotional qualities to nonhumans which some may regard as far-fetched. So, if I believe a dog is angry then I say so, and if she is a dog who feels angry with speciesists, then I sympathize!

(Richard D. Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989], 2)