The cow is an important symbol of the Dutch landscape, ‘Dutchness’, the Dutch economy and Dutch eating practices. But it is also a controversial symbol; in 2019, 21 million cattle were slaughtered in the Netherlands, the majority of them calves younger than twelve months. In our imagination we picture cows in the Dutch landscape, but in reality they spend much of their short lives in stalls. As a high-yield animal, the cow has been closely associated with humans for centuries. But what do we know about the cow? How do cows understand each other? How do cows use their voices and body language to communicate with one another and farmers? How do they relate to other cows, other animals and their surroundings?


This project focuses on two questions. First, how do we define what we mean by language? This is a complex question, because there are various linguistic theories that define language. Some try to understand language as a biological system in our brains, others conceive of language as a form of social behaviour. The great majority of linguists exclude the notion that other animals use language; they claim that ‘animal language does not exist’. Human language and human cognitive abilities thus set the standard to be met by other species. Due to this anthropocentric perspective, the languages and cognitive abilities of animals fall short from the start. Second, how do cows relate to their surroundings? Cows actively shape and reshape the landscape, yet the landscape also limits their options. Cows do not live alone, of course; humans and cows form part of a protracted process of domestication. This project investigates the relationship between cows and humans. In what ways do humans relate to cows (as products, as sensitive creatures, as objects)? Which other animals play a role in the relationship with cows?


Due to the rapid fall in biodiversity, growing inequality between humans and other species, the disappearance of habitats for non-human species and overly intensive contact, which has led to the emergence of diseases such as COVID-19, language among animals has become a pressing issue for linguists. This project therefore enriches the concept of language and problematises the notion that language is reserved exclusively for humans. The dairy cow forms the case for the ‘animal languages’ project, which will be carried out in close cooperation with Dutch dairy farmers.



Eeke Brussee

Wessel van Dieren

Celine Georges

Gina Habets

Elin Immerzeel

Marlou Koch

Fien Lindelauff

Marieke Peters

Ronja van Zijverden

Maarten Zwaal



  • Frank van Eerdenburg, Veterinary Medicine Faculty, Utrecht University
  • Stefanie Ramachers, Radboud Teachers Academy, Radboud University, Nijmegen
  • James Trujillo, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition & Behavior, Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Jehan Verstappen, HAS Venlo



Leonie Cornips and Louis van den Hengel, Place-Making by Cows in an Intensive Dairy Farm: A Sociolinguistic Approach to Nonhuman Animal Agency’, in: Bernice Bovenkerk and Jozef Keulartz (red.) Animals in Our Midst: the Challenges of Co-Existing with Animals in the Anthropocene (Springer 2021).


Leonie Cornips, ‘The Animal Turn in Postcolonial (Socio)Linguistics: The Interspecies Greeting of the Dairy Cow’, Journal of Postcolonial Linguistics, te verschijnen.


Leonie Cornips, ‘Getting to Know the Dairy Cow: An Inclusive and Self-Reflexive Sociolinguistics in Multispecies Emotional Encounters’, in: Cecilia Cutler, Unn Røyneland, and Zvjezdana Vrzić, Language activism and the role of scholars, under review.


Leonie Cornips and Marjo van Koppen, ‘Embodied Grammar in Dairy Cows. UiL-OTS Colloquium, Utrecht University, 20 februari 2020 (


Fien De Malsche and Leonie Cornips, ‘Examining Interspecies Interaction in Light of Discourse Analytic Theory: A Case Study on the Genre of Human-Goat Communication at a Petting Farm’, Language and Communication, under review.