Animal Languages with Eva Meijer

2 min. read (or watch the video)

I recently discovered Dutch philosopher and writer Eva Meijer. Besides being a very eloquent and incredibly accessible writer and thinker, she is also an artist, singer-song writer and activist. In her recent book, “Animal Languages” (MIT, 2020), she explores the state of what we know about non-human animal communication.

The desire to speak with animals has obsessed me since I was a child. I recall soaking in the bath, while my mother would read to me Dr. Doolittle — and other fascinating stories — always in candle light. I think, Eva wrote her book for people like me. People who never lost hope that one day we would communicate with other animals.

And, of course we do communicate with each other. All the time. Only, often we don’t grant the other enough personhood. Were we to sharpen our attention, to become aware to the senses and signals of other beings in different bodies, we would have much more lively and rewarding conversations. For now, I will practice with our cat.

Eva begins by looking at past attempts to teach other animals human languages, before delving into non-human signalling. She considers how domestication has broadened the communicative repertoire of human and non-human companions. She goes into what it means to think with one’s body, to have an open grammar, and how to read the morality of others.

Read Eva’s book. It’s like a non-academic version of an annotated bibliography, luring you into some of the most tantalizing research in recent ethology, biology, and etho-ethnology. For my work I need to go to the original authors, but here has been crafted such a lovely text — it deserves to be read in the tub. At night. With candles flickering.

By alexoehler

I am an environmental anthropologist at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.