Copeland, Marion W. (2016) Life in translation. Animal Sentience 5(4)
This commentary emphasizes Broom’s (2014) attack on “the widely stated human prejudices” that prevent modern humans from understanding and communicating with animals of other species. As a student and scholar of what is now referred to as literary animal studies, I find one of these biases — anthropocentrism (human exceptionalism) — of particular concern because much of the literature I study is valued only for its concern with animals presented as so remarkably similar to human beings that they are read as symbols or allegorical representations of the human rather than real animals: when some of these animal characters speak what seems to be human language, they are commonly belittled as anthropomorphic! Broom mentions that humans tend to find the ability to use language as humans do “particularly impressive” but not if it is used by a being who happens to be nonhuman. I suggest that such use in literature is often a device used to translate animals’ real methods of communication into language that human readers can understand. The hope is that this will lead to a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the animals in question: what animals are really like, how they see and respond to their Umwelt or surround, and what would really be involved in meeting the needs they have. In other words, what would constitute welfare from that animal’s perspective?