Animacy enters into our language in many ways – whether something is alive or not affects linguistic choices. But what does it mean to be ‘alive’? Fictional narratives featuring talking paintings or dancing peanuts show us that a biological distinction cannot be the full story. By taking such inanimate characters seriously, this project has investigated what it means to be alive linguistically. In a series of experiments, Thijs Trompenaars found that linguistic animacy is not determined by whether something is strictly speaking alive, but how alive we consider it to be. This in turn is influenced by an entity’s behaviour, as an Agent of its own actions or an Experiencer of the narrative world around it. These results have much to tell us about the meaning of life, at least in grammar and cognition.