Cow-human Interaction

Towards an Animal Turn in Sociolinguistics. Understanding the dairy cow’s interaction with humans and with each other

This project explores the social interactions of dairy cows. In this way it is proposing that the perspective of (non-human) animals should be incorporated into the field of sociolinguistics.

Dairy cows have traditionally had a close association with humans. There were as many as 1.5 million of them living in the Netherlands in 2022. Unlike pets, however, little is known about their social behaviour, even though in many cases their interaction is every bit as complex and context-specific as that between people, as can be seen from earlier research by linguist Leonie Cornips, a member of the NL-Lab team.

The ‘animal turn’

This research project advocates an ‘animal turn’ in sociolinguistics. It takes a broader definition of language as a basis: a multimodal, embodied and multi-sensory phenomenon that covers not only spoken/heard language, but also other forms of expression (such as gestures) and senses (such as smell and touch), as well as the material and spatial context in which language is used.

Language of the dairy cow

Working from this new perspective, in this project we are researching the interaction between dairy cows and humans, and between dairy cows themselves. By analysing their sounds, eye contact, movements, facial expressions, physical contact and sensory capabilities, we are trying to answer the question of how cows understand each other and people and form relationships.
The Dutch Research Council’s Social Sciences and Humanities Open Competition grant will make it possible, amongst other things, to appoint a PhD student and junior researcher to the project.
For her research on cow interaction Cornips has also received a grant from the Barth-Misset Fund so that educational packages can be developed to help livestock farmers spot discomfort and wellbeing in their cows more easily. Read more here.