ENTANGLEMENTS: Leonie Cornips on Dairy Cow Relations

How a Dairy Cow Relates to Other Cows and Humans:
The Opening of a Conversation

Prof. dr. Leonie Cornips
NL-Lab, Humanities cluster (KNAW, Amsterdam) & Maastricht University

Thursday 10 December, 16-17hrs CET, on Zoom (please register below)

This lecture will focus on how the dairy cow within the power dynamics of industrial farming, makes social meaning in her barn by relating to other cows and entering human(s) via a processually emergent quality arising from multiple assemblages of human and nonhuman elements, including material things, artefacts and spaces (Cornips & van den Hengel, in press).

I will very briefly sketch an animal turn in sociolinguistics to provide an opportunity to develop a relational framework focusing on language as local meaning-making which is not human-centred, not language-centred, not praxis-centred but is distributed among and between species, materiality, place and time. Hopefully, the lecture will show that decentring the human in (socio)linguistic research brings to light novel research findings which transcend species hierarchies.

Basing my observations on ethnographic research in various industrial farms in the Netherlands, I analyse the dairy cow as a linguistic actor who opens the interaction with the cow and human newcomer by producing a routinized ‘mmmm’ – not as ‘noise’ – but as the first pair part in a greeting exchange (Cornips, under review). Power dynamics in the industrial dairy farming context dictate that the human, in contrast to the cow, does not produce the expected second pair part of the greeting exchange vocally, revealing at the same time that the dairy cow is not worth recognizing. Profound power inequalities also prevent the captive dairy cow from traversing space for establishing body contact with the (familiar) human newcomer, which counts as a fundamental aspect in a greeting exchange. Finally, not all individual cows greet vocally which might be related to the different personalities dairy cows have, and that the vocal greeting by the dairy cow is curtailed by the type of barn and by the number of various different humans who enter her barn.

This finding is important since learning and acknowledging greeting rituals of dairy cows may lead to a new interspecies ethics, i.e. in ‘respectfully engaging in new rituals with them can function as a gateway to further political interaction and extended conversations’ (Meijer 2013).

Cornips, Leonie & Louis van den Hengel (2021, in press). Place-making by cows in an intensive dairy farm: A sociolinguistic approach to nonhuman animal agency. Animals in Our Midst: the challenges of co-existing with animals in the Anthropocene, ed. By Bernice Bovenkerk and Jozef Keulartz, Springer.

Cornips, Leonie. The animal turn in postcolonial (socio)linguistics: the interspecies greeting of the dairy cow. Journal of Postcolonial Linguistics. Under review

Nederland, Noordbeemster, 14 mei 2020. Leonie Cornips, koeienonderzoeker Foto: Merlijn Doomernik. Alle rechten voorbehouden / All rights reserved

Leonie Cornips obtained her PhD at the University of Amsterdam, where she worked on syntactic variation in spoken Dutch in Heerlen. She then worked at the Meertens Instituut (KNAW), where she analyses multilingualism among toddlers, children, and adolescents. Since 2011, she is also a professor by special appointment in Language Culture in Limburg, at Maastricht University. There, she explores how inhabitants of Limburg construct their local identities through language practices and whether children profit cognitively from their dialect. Since 2019, Leonie Cornips works at NL-Lab (Meertens Institute, KNAW), where she explores how humans and animals (especially dairy cows) interreact. She problematises the common sense distinction between human and non-human animals from the perspective of the concept of ‘language.’ Cornips conducts ethnographic research on dairy cows on various farms, analysing how cows enter into relations with humans and with each other through language practices. She understands ‘language’ to be a multimodal, embodied, and multisensory phenomenon, embedded in a material and spatial context.  

• Personal website: https://leoniecornips.com/
• Publications: https://pure.knaw.nl/portal/en/persons/l-cornips

ENTANGLEMENTS is an online lecture series by the Environmental Humanities Center (CLUE+, VU Amsterdam). Other speakers include Professor Cara Daggett, author of The Birth of Energy: Fossil Fuels, Thermodynamics, and the Politics of Work (2019) in February 2021, and Professor Jane Bennett, author of Influx/Efflux: Writing Up with Walt Whitman (2020), in June 2021.

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