Over 90% of all cat owners in Germany talk to their cats. Many people firmly believe that animals are able to communicate their needs to them too. Can humans and cats really understand each other? Science may be on the verge of providing decisive evidence for this problem.

Is it more of a dark “Moooaaa” or a flamboyant “Miiiek”? Most cat owners are convinced they understand what their cat is trying to convey to them with their distinctive sounds. The cat’s language always sounds different, depending on its current needs: if it wants to be caressed, it sounds different than if it is hungry. Anyone who has a cat will likely be able to confirm this.

Cats hardly ever meow among their peers. Cat-to-cat communication sounds very strange and works mainly through buzzing and chattering. This can be heard, for example, in the following video:

When a cat meows, in most cases it does so for humans. Wouldn’t it be conceivable that animals develop a very special language especially for us in the course of their life?

This is one of the questions that the scientist asks himself Susanne Schötz in connection with their study. The cat lover and phonetics (phonetics) expert has invited numerous cat owners and their pets from all over Sweden to participate in a scientific study at the University of Lund (Sweden).

Cat’s language: are there dialects?

As one of the goals of her study is to discover regional linguistic differences in cats, she stressed that the participants and their animals should come from two remote regions of the country, Lund and Stockholm. The question I’d like to clarify here: If people speak different dialects, will their cats do the same too?

Susanne Schötz gave an interview to National Geographic, which we translated from English here. You can find the original text in English Here.

Mrs. Schötz, why do cats meow?

They do it to get our attention. When a cat says “meow” it is almost always addressed to a human being and almost never to another cat. We observe that cats and their owners develop what is known as the language of need in order to be able to communicate better with each other. This language is therefore very specific to this person and their cat. This must now be scientifically proven.

How is communicating with a pet different from communicating with other people?

Most people tend to talk to their pets in a kind of chant. The speech therefore has a higher pitch and sounds very similar to the conversation with a small child.

What information will your study collect?

We record the sounds of cats and people from two very different regions of Sweden on tapes. First there is a comparison between the sounds of the cat: are there any similarities regarding different breeds? In the second part we want to examine how animals react to different types of human language: do they prefer the language of children or do they prefer to be spoken as adults? We are also interested in whether cats can memorize and recognize familiar language patterns in humans. Unfortunately, we don’t know anything about it yet.

How is it possible to see in retrospect what kind of address cats prefer?

First, we will record and collect a variety of language samples from different people. These must then be played over loudspeakers in the animal house. Different linguistic examples should be played there, a camera captures the reactions of the cats. We observe the movements of the ears, head and body.

What conclusions do you expect from your study?

Does a cat just want a quick snack or is it really literally on the verge of hunger? If we can show that cats can communicate their real needs to their owners with very specific sounds, then we can help them understand their pets better. After the investigation, we will also be able to declare whether cats speak differently in the big city than their conspecifics in the country. So we can understand if cats speak different dialects by adapting their language to that of the people around them.

Featured Image: the U_/ CC-BY


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