A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Five-Year Study to Decipher What Cats Are Saying and How They Are Saying It

Susanne Schötz of Sweden's Lund University interacts with a cat.
 Do she and the cat really  understand one another?  
The Melody in Human-Cat Communication project aims to find out.
Photo: Jonas Andersson Published: 10/03/2016.
Have you ever gotten deep into a conversation with your cat only to realize you have no idea what she is saying to you? This happens all the time between She of Little Talent and Real Cat Paisley. For example:

Paisley: Meow.
Old SoLT: Uh-huh.
Paisley: Me-ow.
Old SoLT: Uh-huh.
Paisley: Me-OW.
Old SoLT: Uh-huh.

It’s not exactly sparkling conversation, at least not on old SoLT’s end. But what if she could actually understand cat talk?

Science to the rescue

Well, researchers at Sweden’s Lund University are currently working to understand what cats are trying to tell humans. More specifically, they plan to analyze variations in the melodies of sounds cats make in different situations: content, hungry, annoyed, etc. They will record between thirty and fifty cats making various sounds and look for patterns in the vocalizations. From this, they will develop a “prosodic typology” to classify the sounds.

The five-year project, titled “Melody in Human-Cat Communication,” will look at both sides of the conversation between humans and felines. “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,” says project head Susanne Schötz.

Schötz and two other researchers will listen in on human-cat conversations in areas of Sweden in which the humans speak with two distinct dialects. One question is, do the cats indeed have discernable dialects that they somehow pick up from their humans?

Another question focuses on how humans talk to cats. You know that baby-talk voice you use when you tell your cat she’s “a pwetty, wubby widdle girrol”? Well, maybe cats don’t like that. Maybe your cat would rather be addressed as a human adult and told, “You look lovely today. Have you done something different with your fur?”

Beyond the meow

In case you start to think this project is just for fun, consider how useful it would be to be able to distinguish clearly between a meow for simple attention and one from pain or some other distress. With cats acting as pets, companions, and therapy animals, human-feline communication happens all the time. This study could help humans clarify the way they communicate with their cats, which promises stronger relationships and benefits for cats (and other pets) and their people.

[An aside: The top three things old SoLT thinks her cats are trying to tell her: (1) Feed me. (2) Pet me. (3) Get out of my way.]


Learn more


To learn more about Melody in Human-Cat Communication, watch the video below, and visit the project website at http://vr.humlab.lu.se/projects/meowsic/index.html.

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