Intuitive Interspecies Communication and Language Beyond the Human: Bridging Posthumanist and Indigenous Understandings in Practice

Author: Vanessa Wijngaarden (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)
Speaker: Vanessa Wijngaarden
Topic: Nonverbal Semiotics
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Language, classically considered only in terms of human language, is no longer seen as unrelated to other animal communication systems and has been observed in non-humans in different forms and degrees (Meijer 2016). This has caused researchers to question linguistics’ role in the maintenance of the idea of human exceptionalism and whether language can be better understood when it is not restricted to humans. At the same time, language is understood more as embodied, multimodal and less species specific way. Some scholars have successfully applied linguistic theory and methods beyond the human realm, and call for an animal turn in linguistics (Malsche and Cornips 2021). However, the investigation of language beyond the human has been hampered as researchers continue to struggle with a serious lack of academic methods to access the views and expressions of non-humans, and how to speak with and for non-human others remains one of the most pressing problems in multispecies approaches.

Intuitive interspecies communication (IIC) is a technique used worldwide by Indigenous peoples as well as a rising number of professional animal communicators to interact with the more-than-human world and involves translations between non-lingual to lingual realms. It importantly disrupts a number of historically contingent boundaries that have secured hierarchical oppositions between human/non-human and modern/Indigenous, while interrogating the fundamental dichotomy between presumably distinct physical (natural, sensually perceivable, ‘objective’) and non-physical (social, mentally/emotionally perceivable, ‘subjective’) worlds. In light of novel insights from diverse fields, including animal behaviour, cognitive ethology and biosemiotics, as well as the new theoretical spaces opened up through posthumanist and relational approaches, this less anthropocentric form of communication can no longer be disregarded as merely exotic or mythological. I have been working with animal communictors who use IIC in Europe and Africa, and show how insight into IIC can contribute to the animal turn in linguistics by cross-fertilizing phenomenological, relational and Indigenous approaches. This contributes to ongoing efforts to decolonize methodologies, further cognitive and interspecies justice and multiply voices in academia by practically and collaboratively engaging with human and non-human forms of knowing.


Malsche, Fien de and Leonie Cornips
2021 Examining interspecies interactions in light of discourse analytic theory: A case study on the genre of human-goat communication at a petting farm. Language & Communication, 79:53–70.

Meijer, Eva
2016 Dierentalen. Leusden: ISVW Uitgevers.

Keywords: interspecies communication, phenomenological approaches to language, intuition, human-animal relations, animal communicators, species turn