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Elephants Who Marry Mice are Very Unusual: The Use of the Relative Pronoun Who with Nonhuman Animals

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This paper explores the use of the relative pronoun (who) with nonhuman animals. The paper looks at what dictionaries, an encyclopedia, grammars, publication manuals, newspapers, and news agencies say and do relative to this issue. In addition to investigating the views and practices of these authoritative publications, the study also searched a 100-million-word collection (corpus) of spoken and written English. The study found that while some reference works reject or ignore the use of (who) with nonhuman animals, other works discuss the possibility, and (who) does occur in the corpus with nonhuman animals. Explanations for such usage include psychological closeness with particular nonhuman animals and/or features shared with humans. The paper suggests that the use of (who) with nonhuman animals might play a role in promoting human attitudes and behaviors beneficial to fellow animals. However, it cautions that the correlation between language use, on the one hand, and attitudes and behaviors, on the other hand, is not a perfect one.


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