animal names for people

Mahajan, Gyanam mahajan at HUMNET.UCLA.EDU
Mon Feb 2 18:22:41 UTC 2009

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Greetings from sunny California. The following is from the LINGUIST list. I
thought it might be of interest to us since South Asian languages also love to use animal names for people. 

Dear Linguists,

Quite a few weeks ago Zsuzsa Szamosfalvi asked you to fill in a questionnaire
about animal names used to address people in English. We received a generous lot
of answers, for which we are extremely grateful to all of you, whom we don't
have the space to list. But here is a summary of Zsuzsa's preliminary
results, written by her, just to give you some feedback on what you've
become involved in:

''I decided to deal with this topic after having read Halupka-Resetar
and Radic (2003), who carried out a research on ''Animal names used in
addressing people in Serbian''. Although I listed different animal names
in my questionnaire, I was working with the same method they used. My
questionnaire has been completed by some 45 native English-speaking people from
Great-Britain, Ireland, the United States and Canada so far.

In the first and second places in my recent analysis I concentrated on whether
the given animal vocatives are used to express affection or abuse and whether
these animal names are used to address a male or a female person. Finally, I
concentrated on the semantico-pragmatic motivations of people using particular
animal vocatives.

It was rather interesting to realize which animal names are the most frequently
used ones in terms of addressing people. I listed 42 animal names in my
questionnaire, in this case I intend to deal with the 15 most frequent ones.
These are in order of frequency: 1. pig, 2. chick(en),  3.
dog/puppy, 4. cow, 5. monkey, 6. hen, 7. rat, 8. turkey, 9. mouse, 10.
snake, 11. cat/kitten, 12. fox, 13. lamb, 14. vixen, 15. worm. 

These preliminary results show that animal vocatives are more often used as
expressing a negative relation towards the addressee, rather than a positive
one. This is also confirmed by the fact that among these 15 animal names we can
find only one, 'lamb', which is exclusively used affectionately, thus it
has no abusive meaning at all. All the other animal vocatives are either used to
express an exclusively abusive manner, just like pig, cow, rat, snake, worm, or
to express both an abusive and an affectionate manner, just like chick(en),
dog/puppy, monkey, hen, turkey, mouse, cat/kitten, fox, vixen.

Most of the mentioned 15 animal vocatives are used to address both a male and a
female person. As there are 3 animal names that are exclusively used to address
a female person, just like cow, hen, vixen, there is not a single one, which is
exclusively used to describe a male addressee. All the other animal vocatives
are used to address both a male and a female person.
Finally, it is interesting to see the semantico-pragmatic motivations of people
using particular animal vocatives, in other words, the different meanings of the
expressions the animal vocatives transfer. I worked with the same classification
that was used by S. Halupka-Resetar and B. Radic.
On the basis of this classification I divided the 15 listed animal names into
the following four groups: appearance, eating habits, intelligence and
character. Therefore, cow and vixen are listed under appearance, pig is under
eating habits, fox and turkey are under intelligence, while the group character
includes cat/kitten, hen, snake, worm, monkey, dog/puppy, mouse, chicken, lamb
and rat.

In my further analysis I would like to devote much more attention to the
morphosyntactic structures in which the animal vocatives are used and the
typical situations that usually provoke such occurrences.''

We are grateful for all the help we've got.

Katalin Balogné Bérces and Zsuzsa Szamosfalvi, Péter Pázmány Catholic
University, Hungary

Halupka-Resetar, Sabina and Radic, Biljana, 2003. Animal names used in
addressing people in Serbian. In: Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) pp.

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

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