Kittens meow to other kittens and cats. But by the time they’re mature, felines who live with humans stop vocalizing to one other and meow mostly to us. So should you talk back as if speaking to a kitten or cat? In other words, should you drop the baby talk?
Probably not, since some scientists think cats respond better to women because their voices are higher pitched. That’s just one of the issues that Suzanne Schotz, cat lover and phonetics expert at Lund University in Sweden, hopes to shed light on as part of a study of communication between cats and their owners, according to a recent report by National Geographic News on nationalgeographic.com.
A survey conducted by Sienna College in New York has already determined that most New York pet owners routinely talk to their cats and dogs as if talking to another person. The same people also say their cat or dog responds with a certain type of meow or bark that means he or she wants to go out or be fed. One meow means, “I’d like something to eat,” while another means, “I’m really hungry.” There’s already some good information out there on why cats meow. Arden Moore, author of The Cat Behavior Answer Book, told Petfinder.com that “cats are capable of making at least 30 sounds, including at least 19 variations on the simple meow.”
Like the rest of us, Schotz thinks that different meows mean different things. She also points out that most cat owners have their own simple but well-defined way of talking to their pets that she describes as a “pidgin language.” She hopes to find out if there are any similarities in these pidgin languages used in almost every pet-centric household, or whether they are entirely unique, according to the National Geographic news article.
She also observes that pet owners in general talk to their dogs and cats as if they are talking to small children. The tend to pitch their voices higher and adopt a melodic or “sing song” way of speaking. She wants to learn if it can be proven that cats are more receptive to baby talk. To conduct her study, she plans to recruit people and cats living in two different regions of Sweden. She will also analyze the melody in cat vocalizations and look for patterns that can be linked to specific feline emotions, or which are typical of certain breeds of cats.
“We will record different speaking styles from a number of humans,” Schotz told National Geographic. “Then, we will go to the cat’s home and place loudspeakers behind a screen. We will play back different melodies and human speaking voices and videotape the cats to see their responses. We will look at ear movements, head movements, body posture, and things like that.”