|Andrey Kuzmin – Fotolia.com
Does your cat from North Carolina meow with a southern drawl? Or, if you’re in northern New Jersey, does she sound like an in-your-face Jersey girl when she talks to you? That regional accent might be more than a figment of your imagination. A team of Swedish scientists is trying to find out whether cats have different “dialects” based on their location.
Susanne Schötz, an associate professor of phonetics at Lund University, thinks cats who live in different areas have slightly different accents. To confirm that she’s not just hearing things, she and two other researchers will be listening to cats in Stockholm and Lund, two areas with different dialects, and using phonetic analysis to determine whether their meows really do sound different.
The researchers plan to study 30-50 cats and their people over the next five years. They’ll listen to intonation, voice and speaking style in human speech addressed to cats and cat vocalizations addressed to humans.
Hey, Human! Are You Listening?
When adult cats talk with each other, their preferred method of communication is body language. The position of their ears and tails and the look in their eyes are worth a thousand meows. They meow when they talk to us because they realize we’re not fluent in catspeak.
But when they meow to us, do we really know what they’re saying?
Schötz also plans to record the vocalizations of cats in different situations to find out.
“We know cats vary the melody of their sounds extensively, but we don’t know how to interpret this variation,” she says. She hopes to discover how cats sound when they want to go out, are feeling friendly and greeting people, and when they’re hungry, annoyed or
She also wants to learn how they react to different human voices, speaking styles and intonation patterns. For instance, she wants to know if cats like hearing high-pitched “pet-directed” speech or if they would rather be spoken to as human adults.
“We still have much to learn
about how cats perceive human speech,” Schötz says.
Meowsic To Our Ears
Schötz is calling her study Meowsic (Melody in Human-Cat Communication), and she believes it could have a “profound impact” on how humans communicate with cats at home and at vet clinics and shelters.
Five years is a long time to wait, but it will be fun to see how the study turns out. In the meantime, I’ll continue talking to my cats the way I talk to people, since they’re used to that. And I guess they’ll continue taking to me the way they talk to other cats, with body language and looks in their eyes. If they flatten their ears, I’ll know I’m in deep trouble!