Animacy provides pronouns that can create inclusion and encouragement
We all learn early on that human beings are in charge. Everything that is non-human becomes an “it” or a non-entity. We see a dog coming toward us with a broken branch and say either, “Oh look at the dog, it wants to play” or sometimes, just as often we say “Look at the dog! He wants to play.” Least likely is for us to say: “Oh, look at the dog, she wants to play.” Our references to most other beings often not only objectify the other (in this case a playful dog) but the uncertain gender of the dog, as well.
The further down the hierarchy one goes, the less “human” an entity is, we think of a fly as an it, and we don’t classify microorganisms as anything but collective masses of stuff. Germs. Bacteria. Virus. Bugs. Not us, although all of these are us in their billions, in every living beingi
Mary is dead. We buried IT Tuesday …— no way! — A being deserves respect.
You are born as an it. People say “Is it a boy or a girl?” When you die, you are not called it. People don’t say: “Mary is dead, we buried it Tuesday.” Giving a being animacy is respectful to that being.
Most often used to discuss grammatical reference, animacy as a concept is something we discover as infants. We learn there is a self, and that my “self” enjoys being held and fed, and that the “other” entity doing the holding and feeding is experienced through our infant self. Animacy in language usage varies by origin, but ancient and aboriginal languages are almost always more likely to include reference to other beings with more animacy than our dominant English variant languages do.
With few exceptions we objectify that which is not human. This is not done, of course because we are ignorant that a living being has agency and animacy, but because we operate from a human based comprehension of the world.
Early on, the Scale of Nature, or Great Chain of Being taught that over us is the creator and the angels, and below us, here on Earth, is everything else. The hierarchy was developed to indicate that we have agency and are animate, but for the most part, everything else on Earth is affected by us, and for us.
By now, you would think that scientific understanding of the crucial inter-relatedness of all beings would have changed our use of inaccurate language, and slowly some change has come about.
But our perceptions of the animacy of others goes far beyond language and grammar. We are also restricted by our respect for what as seen as structure and tradition. Further, we see other beings as created to show we are special. We hold the power of life and death over them, so psychologically, we may not want to admit we play a part in their existence as beings. In regard to the life of all we come to view as natural resources, we must distance ourselves from their “person-hood.”
We know the chicken we ate today was an individual, but we don’t want to know her as an entity that lived, breathed and felt sensation as we do. We are more comfortable with her parts (and less frequently) his parts glued all together into meat patties or nuggets.
Animacy, of course, is the root for animated and animal. But our human place as animals is even now, confused and debated. When most people speak of animals, they are referring to brutal and savage behavior at worst, or reckless and uninhibited behavior, at best.
Admittedly, this is more often the case with those who would sow dissention and derision, and who further, don’t have a firm grasp on the reality of how systems thrive and how they dissolve.
Nevertheless, the bottom line, is that you do not want to be called an animal, especially if you are a person of color, or of an oppressed gender. Strangely, this is true even in an age where people of every creed and color are grappling with human caused destruction and deterioration of all the rest of biodiversity. It’s a weird time, when our feelings of connection to the rest of nature are numbed by our need to shield ourselves from our own agency and to deny our powers to heal through the re-connection and mending of the systems to which we belong.
Think about animacy today, not just in terms of language, but also in terms of why we so desperately need to separate ourselves from all living systems and beings. Chances are, it is due much more to simply what we learned and what we are raised with, rather than that we do recognize — and quite clearly — that we indeed are kin to all carbon, and we need more recognition of the biosphere in order to operate most effectively within US — not “IT”.