Chimpanzee pant-hooting, termiting, and gesture

June 28, 2015

Here are a few items of linguistic interest from In the Shadow of Man, Jane Goodall’s account of her pioneering study of chimpanzee behaviour in Tanzania in the 1960s. I featured In the Shadow of Man in a bookmash a couple of years ago, but that was before I had read it.

Jane van Lawick Goodall - in the shadow of man - book coverTo describe chimpanzees’ practice of fishing for termites (with a twig, vine, grass stem, straw, or finger), Goodall uses various conventional phrases, such as fishing for termites and termite-fishing, which seems the default. But she also verbs termite itself, just as we’ve long done with fish:

As the termite season wore on there could be no doubt that Flo’s older offspring were kidnaping Flint with the deliberate intent of getting their mother to stop, at least for the time being, her endless termiting. […]

Fifi, on the other hand, was a keen termite fisher, and when Flint, wanting to play with his sister, jumped onto her and scattered the insects from her grass stem, she was obviously irritated. Over and over she pushed him away roughly. Fifi still played with Flint frequently herself when she was not termiting . . .

Termites taste a little like cashew nuts, apparently:

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Annals of animals which get ‘who’

May 27, 2015

In a local newspaper some time ago I read about ‘dormice . . . who nest in shrubs and hedgerows’. The grammar of this phrase struck me enough to write a brief post on the different kinds of antecedent for which we use the relative pronouns who, that, and which.

When referring to animals we usually use that or which, reserving who for people, or entities that comprise people. But who may also be used for animate entities with personality or the implication thereof, and this includes non-human animals – even dormice, I was pleased to see.

As the table below shows, who is especially likely to be used with pets, companion animals, or domesticated or very familiar animals. If the creature has been personalized with a name or by establishing its sex, there’s a good chance it will warrant who.

I read another example recently in the very first entry in Paul Anthony Jones’s book Word Drops:

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Bookmash: Don’t Sleep

November 23, 2012

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[click to enlarge]

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Don’t Sleep

Don’t sleep –
There are snakes, bugs,
Creatures of the earth
In the shadow of man:
Mythmakers and lawbreakers
Defining the world.

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With thanks to the authors: Daniel Everett, Theodore Roszak, John McGahern, Jane Goodall, Margaret Killjoy, and Henry Hitchings; and special thanks to Nina Katchadourian for her Sorted Books project.

Lots more of these in the bookmash archive, along with links to other people’s. Let me know if you join in, and I’ll update accordingly.

Updates:

Martha Barnette did me the honour of reading this bookmash aloud on A Way With Words, the public-radio language show she co-hosts with Grant Barrett.

Adrian of The Outer Hoard had the marvellous idea of rearranging my older bookmashes to make two “stanmashes”.

Laura E. (aka @Soulclaphands) made a lovely bookmash beginning with the line “All these voices.”

Olivia (@peeriepics) shared her first bookmash, evoking a nature walk in winter.

Debbie Bambridge’s (@caret_top) first bookmash is very funny: “This charming man…