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A Linguistic Analysis of Discourse on the Killing of Nonhuman Animals

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Human attitudes about killing nonhuman animals are complex, ambivalent, and contradictory. This study attempts to elucidate those attitudes through a linguistic analysis of the terms used to refer to the killing of animals. Whereas terms used for killing human beings are highly specific and differentiated on the basis of the motivation for the killing, the nature of the participants, and evaluative and emotional content, terms used for killing animals are vague and interchangeable. Terms for animal-killing often background aspects of the act, making it more palatable to humans. When a term is extended from use with humans to use with animals, it lends a connotation of compassion and mercy to the killing. When a term is extended from use with animals to use with humans, it gives the killing a connotation of brutality. These findings reflect assumptions about the human "right" to take animals' lives while serving to ameliorate the negative feelings such killings evoke.

Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor, Department of English, The College of St. Catherine, 2004 Randolph Ave., Saint Paul, MN 55105, USA


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