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The Language Of Cats

( Originally Published 1928 )

The cat has a language far in excess of any other domestic animal, in variation of tone. This is particularly noticeable when she has kittens. The cooing baby talk when they are very young is quite affecting and as they grow older and can play about, the mother cat has certain tones and inflections of voice which enable her to call them to her when they stray, or herd them together for a little stroll. No kitten ever misunderstands its mother's meaning when she calls.

" The cat," according to the Naturalist Dupont de Nemours, " has the advantage of a language which has the same vowels as pronounced by the dog and with six consonants in addition m, n, g, h, v and f. Consequently the cat has a greater number of words."

According to Abbe Galiani " there are more than twenty different inflections in the language of cats, and there is really a ` tongue,' for they always employ the same sound to express the same thing." Abbe Galiani also says: " For centuries cats have been reared, but I do not find they have ever been really studied. . . : '

Champfleury professes to have counted sixty-three varieties of mewings, the rotation of which, however, he observes, is difficult. The sign and gesture language of the cat is even more copious and expressive than its audible language. As Mr. Owen has it:

"What tones unheard, and forms of silent speech,
Are given, that such as thee
The eloquence of dumbness man might teach


ROMANES GIVES several instances to prove that cats have a sign language. A cat, observing that a terrier received food in answer to a certain gesture, imitated his begging. Another would make a peculiar noise when it wanted a door opened, and, if its wish was not attended to, would pull at someone's dress with its claws; then, having secured the person's notice, would walk to the door and stand there with a vocal request that it be opened.

Other cats are mentioned that would jump on chairs and look at bells, put their paws upon them, or even ring them, when they wanted anything done for which the ringing of a bell was a signal.

Lindsay has shown that, in common with other tamed and domestic animals, they understand one or more of the modes in which man expresses his ideas, wishes, or commands, as well as those ideas, wishes, and commands themselves, however expressed, particularly the calls to receive food, and their own names. They also, in common with a smaller number of animals, appear to know the names of the different members of the family, and of articles of domestic use. An instance is cited from Clark Rossiter of a cat that knew the name of each member of the household, and his seat at the table. If asked about an absent one, she would look at the vacant seat, then at the speaker, and if told to fetch him would run upstairs to his room, take the handle of the door between her paws, mew at the keyhole, and wait to be let in.

Cats appear taciturn in ordinary life, but every one knows that they can, upon occasion, and that often, speak forcibly enough. They also have a language for their friends, varied and expressive enough to convey their wants definitely, and make intercourse with them pleasant and lively. Those who know them best may readily say with John Owen, in the London " Academy ":

"Thou art not dumb, my Muff,
In those sweet pleading eyes and earnest look,
Language there is enough,
To fill with living type a goodly book."

Montaigne observed, some three hundred years ago, that our beasts have some intelligence well nigh in the same measure as we: -" They flatter us, menace us, and need us; and we, them. It is abundantly evident to us, that there is among them a full and entire communication, and that they understand each other."

Dupont de Nemours, who undertook to penetrate the mysteries of animal language, recognized that animals had few wants, but that these were strong, and that their passions were few but imperious; for which they had very marked but limited expressions. He thought the cat was more intelligent than the dog, because, being able to climb trees she had sources of ideas and experiences denied to him; and, having all the vowels of a dog, with six consonants in addition, she had more words.

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