Our Compass

English and Speciesism
By Joan Dunayer

Standard English usage perpetuates speciesism, which is the failure to accord nonhuman animals equal consideration and respect. Like racism or sexism, speciesism is a form of prejudice sustained in part by biased, misleading words. However, whereas racist slurs rightly elicit censure, people regularly use, and fail to notice, speciesist language. Unlike sexist language, speciesist language remains socially acceptable even to people who view themselves as progressive. Speciesism pervades our language, from scholarly jargon to street slang. Considered in relation to the plight of nonhuman beings, the words of feminist poet Adrienne Rich express a terrible absolute: “This is the oppressor’s language.”

Speciesist usage denigrates or discounts nonhuman animals. For example, terming nonhumans “it” erases their gender and groups them with inanimate things. Referring to them as “something” — rather than “someone” — obliterates their sentience and individuality. Pure speciesism leads people to call a…

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