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Philippe Caquant wrote:

> This is a permanent problem when trying to find out
> the deep semantic concepts. We have a tendency to
> think the scientific way, when categorizing, for ex.
> For a scientist, the concept of "mammal" or
> "reptilian" is something very clear and important. But
> for usually people, it's not. It would rather be
> "furry animal living on earth", or "animal looking
> like a snake". Describing man (or rather, woman) as a
> mammal would sound rather odd, and yet it is true,
> from a scientific point of view. How many people would
> describe a whale as a fish ? Lots of them, probably.
> Where is the frontier between scientific and everyday
> concepts ? It is not a clear one, for sure.

I've gone back and forth on whether words for "animal" in my languages
should include people; biologically of course humans are animals;
non-human people are only encountered in stories or dreams, and probably
many if not most of them are also animals. But philosophically it seems
useful to have a word for a kind of being that's at least complex enough
to have a brain and central nervous system, but without the ability to
communicate complex ideas of the sort associated with human language by
stringing sequences of words together in intricate combinations to
express ideas as complex as this one (or even more so). So for instance
one of my Zireen languages has a word "tÓm" which is glossed as "a
non-speaking animal". But the Zireen know very well that they are
animals and think of themselves as just another kind of animal that
knows how to talk. So I don't know whether it makes sense for them to
have a word specifically meaning "a non-speaking animal".

In English, "mammal" is pretty much only used as a scientific term;
ordinary non-technical language uses "animal" or "beast" for non-human
mammals (at least the ones that live on land). It might be unusual to
describe men and women as "mammals", but no more so than any other
mammals; English speakers don't typically say things like "Look at that
mammal over there" (while "Look at that bird over there" is entirely
normal).

As far as I'm concerned, that's a gap in the language that needs
filling, and if I ever did an IAL or engelang project, I'd want to
include ordinary non-technical words for the category of "mammal": a
word that you could use in the context "Look at that X over there", that
would be more precise than just saying "animal". But actually,
situations where someone might use "animal" in a non-technical sense to
refer to something that isn't a mammal are pretty rare. If it's a bird,
you'd just call it a bird; snakes are snakes, lizards are lizards, fish
are fish, insects and spiders are bugs (or at least, not "animals" in
the popular sense, although you wouldn't think it odd to find pictures
of them in alt.binaries.pictures.animals). Maybe some unusual kind of
salamander might be called an animal (for lack of a better word, if you
don't recognize it as a salamander, at least in a sentence like "what
kind of animal is that?"). But for practical purposes, "animal" is
almost the English word for "mammal".