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The Canine in Conversation
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Dog as Self and Other

Comparisons to Canines as a Practice of Dehumanization

 
 
Why should expressions like 'you son of a bitch' or 'you swine' carry the connotations that they do, when 'you son of a kangaroo' or 'you polar bear' have no meaning whatever?
-Edmund Leach
 

This essay explores how language—specifically non-literal linguistic references to dogs in contemporary U.S. English—can unconsciously and perniciously reinforce narratives of oppression and domination.  References to dogs in metaphors, similes, and idiom reflect how they act as figurative stand-ins for both the Self and the Other in American society.  The unique status of dogs as quasi-persons and their pervasiveness in society makes them easily understood representations of those whose personhood is challenged or compromised by the dominant culture.  Dogs' explicit status as subservient—and as servants—often marks such linguistic usage as affirming the status quo.

The goal of this essay is to place the cultural narratives about who and what dogs are in an explicit relationship both with the linguistic references to dogs and with empirical studies of canines and their relations with humans.  The intention is to create a greater conscious consideration of the implications of references to dogs in everyday speech, based on the assumption that it is only through unpacking the presuppositions encoded in language that the mythology underlying linguistic usage can be revealed.
1. Barthes, Roland. 1972. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang.
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