As any pet owner will tell you, cats are great at manipulating us. They’re good at figuring what we like (although they might not care), they’re good at looking at us with their big eyes and they often change their personality to match ours. But do they actually change the way they “talk”? A team of researchers wants to find out – right meow.
Cats are so sneaky they may have domesticated themselves, as they became less aggressive and friendlier 12,000 years ago to eat our food and hunt rodents in grain stores, “abandoning their aggressive wild-born behaviors”. Since then, their behavior has changed dramatically, adapting both to their new owners and the new environments. Susanne Schötz from Lund University in Sweden believes they may have even picked up accents:
“We know that cats vary the melody of their sounds extensively, but we do not know how to interpret this variation. We will record vocalisations of about 30 to 50 cats in different situations – e.g. when they want access to desired locations, when they are content, friendly, happy, hungry, annoyed or even angry – and try to identify any differences in their phonetic patterns.”
So she and her team announced that they will start a five-year study to test out this hypothesis. They will analyse how cats meow in different parts of the world, looking for all types of differences and establish patterns – if there are any.
“We want to find out to what extent domestic cats are influenced by the language and dialect that humans use to speak to them, because it seems that cats use slightly different dialects in the sounds they produce,” said Schötz.
There’s a good chance they’re right, because domestic cats meowing is weird in itself. Wild or feral cats stop usually meowing after their mother sends them off on their own. This seems to back up a new emerging theory, that your cat basically considers you a bigger and less able cat.
Since the study is just beginning, we’ll have several years to wait before we can draw some definite conclusions, but one thing’s for sure: your cat’s meow is probably more complex than you think.