The sound of meowsic: How cats talk to each other – and us – Science & Health

Do cats speak? Of course they do. Ignore the haters. We know what cats want, so communication is well established. Understanding exactly what our precious cats are saying is a whole different game, but then again, how well do we understand our neighbors? Cats speak, and now research on human-cat communication has earned Swedish researchers the prestigious Ig Nobel Prize in Biology in 2021. Applause!

Prof. Susanne Schotz and Joost van de Weijer from Lund University and Robert Eklund from Linköping University received the Ig for Biology on Thursday for the analysis of variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning and squeaking , Hissing, yowling, howling, growling and other types of communication between humans and cats. ”

Yes there is more. Meowsic – yes, there is one thing: melody in human-cat interaction. Schotz, Professor of Phonetics, studied Meowsic and wrote a thesis about it: “Melody in Human-Cat Communication (Meowsic): Origins, Past, Present and Future”.

At the award ceremony, Schotz helpfully demonstrated some of the sounds she had studied, reports Reuters. And how did she feel about being awarded the Ig Nobel, the prize of the Institute of Improbable Research founded by Marc Abrahams “for achievements that first make people LAUGH and then THINK?” Look, she actually appeared.

Lars Gustafsson

It is thought that cats and humans can exchange sounds any way they want, but how much we get along will forever be unknown. If a cat is not held in captivity but remains around, it wants to do so, indicating that you are doing something right. But Schotz discovered key elements that indicate they are speaking, and people who know cats have a sense of what it’s about.

As she explained in 2018, cats picked up at home during feeding time provided melodies with a tonal rise at the end. Cats admitted to the vet’s waiting room meow with a fall towards the end of the tune. It is crucial that people who listened to the recordings were often able to tell whether the meowing occurred in a feeding situation or a veterinarian situation.

skip – FEED ME FEED ME – דלג

How did Schotz come to study cat vocalizations? As a phonetics researcher, she studies human language. “One of my professional dangers is that I tend to listen less to what people say than how they say it,” she said.

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But as a right-thinking person, she had five cats and noticed great differences in the magical noises they made, which also varied in intonation, “depending on the context or situation and their mental state”.

She recorded the cats’ sounds, analyzed them using the same methods used for human speech, and concluded that, contrary to the careless assumption that cats “meow,” they actually had a variety of vocal cues have – and they don’t just say “feed me.”


Lars Gustafsson

In short, she consulted with her two co-winners, someone gave them a “small scholarship” and now they are in the limelight.

To dispel the vicious claim of the doubters that everything happens in our heads, Schotz suggests that cats and their companions develop a kind of “pidgin language”.

In addition, the animals in households with several cats can develop a “group dialect”, even if they can’t stand each other, which is not uncommon in households with several cats. “They listen to what other cats are saying in order to get what they want, and they adopt these successful noises,” explains Schotz.

Contrary to the belief that cats only meow in an ongoing infantilized state, here is a video of some of their cats making rather unusual hissing and growling noises to impress one another.

skip – Some growl Some growl – דלג

So do cats have a language? Not like us. None of this means they have syntax or are trying to talk about their career plans, and much remains to be done. But she already knows that every cat has its own personal voice, just like us. They sing! And their melody seems to carry an important part of the message.

“For example, the more variety the melody has, the more excited or urgent the message seems,” she explains. And they don’t just meow.

Here is a video of Schotz’s cat Donna, who trills, squeaks and purrs.

skip – purr purr –

This author testifies that one of her own several cats chirps remarkably like a bird when she sees a bird. (Could she chirp like a bird ready to mate? Nobody looked at this.) The others don’t chirp like birds when they see birds; they don’t do anything. You are overfed.

Of course, not all vocalization is an intentional act of communication. If the creature your cat is vomiting on the carpet – it doesn’t cough its food on floor tiles, heaven forbid, it has to be the carpet – that cat can make an unusual noise too. It is a type of Nya Nya Nya or Amni Amni Amni or a variation on this theme. The closer the cat is to vomiting, the more intense the sound will be. Different cats have different thematic meows to vomit, it is noted.

Personal experiences aside, there is a pretty extraordinary abundance of videos of cats throwing up on YouTube. Here is one. Enjoy:

skip – It’s vomiting time It’s vomiting time – דלג

In other Ig news, Pavlo Blavatskyy received an Ig in Economics for his work linking obesity in politicians to corruption. The entomology award went to a team for their research study “A New Method of Cockroach Control on Submarines”. Thanks for that. We were surprised. Applause.