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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS checks out the newest app that has got cat owners (and their pets) talking 

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Do you speak cat? It is best to learn to should you don’t. In spite of everything, we Britons are willing servants to almost 11 million moggies.

Greater than 1 / 4 of households have a cat, but they may be infuriating pets. While dogs make their feelings plain, cats are sometimes enigmatic and inscrutable.

That explains this month’s craze for a phone app called MeowTalk, which claims to translate purrs and miaows into English, for a £2.49 monthly subscription.

The app’s creator, a software engineer who helped to develop Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant, says it has seen 17 million downloads and 250 million ‘miaows’ recorded.

More about MeowTalk later, but (spoiler alert) I do not advise you to splash out any money on it.

I could not help feeling enthusiastic about its potential, though, because I’ve at all times believed that cats do try to speak with us — either through their mews and growls or their body language.

It’s possible you’ll think I’m bonkers, but there’s an increasing array of scientific findings to back up my ravings.

Journalist Amanda Platell showcases the MeowTalk app

Journalist Amanda Platell showcases the MeowTalk app 

Take the ‘slow blink’. When my wife and I first lived together, we had a black-and-white tomcat called Pod. Pod used to stare at me, as if attempting to implant messages in my puny human brain.

He’d gaze, and slowly his yellow eyes would close and open. I discovered that, by blinking back, I could hold his attention. We might sit and blink at one another for minutes on end.

A long time later, researchers on the Cats Protection League (CPL) say this slow blink is recognised as an indication of trust, a technique to establish a bond. If the animal reciprocates, you are firm friends.

So, clearly, cats need to talk — but do they ever attempt to speak our language? I think they may.

Our next cat, Peggy, was a velvet-black half-Persian whose party trick was to greet us with a confident ‘Hah-woah!’ It was a sound that began in her nose and got here out, with the flick of her jaw, through a wide-open mouth.

She didn’t begin to do it till she was about 12 years old, and I’m certain she was imitating us.

Our reactions, when she first began saying it, went from puzzlement (‘That is an odd noise’) to amusement (‘Is she actually saying Hello?’) to amazement (‘Listen, I say Hello and she or he says it back!’) to acceptance (‘Hello yourself, Peggy’).

Peggy wasn’t unique. Among the many thousands and thousands of cat videos on YouTube and TikTok, there’s a very celebrated one in every of a ginger mog called Gambino Bambino, who lives within the southern United States.

Gambino drawls, ‘Well, Hi!’ — exactly like Scarlett O’Hara flirting with Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind. It’s quite unmistakable.

Peggy and Gambino appear to have learned to greet humans in ways we recognise and understand.

But Bristol University lecturer Dr Emily Blackwell, who has led an 11-year study into cat behaviour, explains that communication between cats themselves is much more subtle, using a language that we could never comprehend.

‘Cats communicate socially, primarily using scent (at a distance) and body language (at closer range),’ she says.

‘To orientate themselves inside their environment, they ‘mark’ places, objects, and other people too. This identifies some as familiar and protected, others as unfamiliar or related to unpleasant experiences. After all, we’re totally oblivious to this when our cats rub their heads against our legs.’

More than a quarter of households have a cat, but they can be infuriating pets. While dogs make their feelings plain, cats are often enigmatic and inscrutable

Greater than 1 / 4 of households have a cat, but they may be infuriating pets. While dogs make their feelings plain, cats are sometimes enigmatic and inscrutable

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: 'My cat, Picnic (pictured) rolls onto his back, stretches out his hind legs and bats at the air with his forepaws. I've learned the hard way that this does not mean, ''Please tickle my tummy''.'

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: ‘My cat, Picnic (pictured) rolls onto his back, stretches out his hind legs and bats on the air together with his forepaws. I’ve learned the hard way that this doesn’t mean, ”Please tickle my tummy”.’

She adds, furthermore, that the thought of ‘translating’ their miaows into English has no scientific basis. ‘There may be little evidence,’ she told me, ‘for universal, context- specific vocalisations directed towards people.’In other words, MeowTalk’s premise — that cats have a worldwide system of miaows for each occasion — is mistaken.

Little wonder: once I offered it a YouTube compilation of cats miaowing, the software returned a string of mistaken answers.

A kitten having its tummy tickled, miaowing in bliss, was translated as ‘Mummy, where are you?’

A cat by a door, asking to exit, was translated as, ‘I’m in pain’ or ‘I’m not afraid’. Anyone could see this was, in reality, a healthy animal that simply desired to be someplace else.

The reality about ‘cat talk’ is more complicated — and way more interesting. As an alternative of a universal language, our pets tailor their miaows to our ears.

‘It seems likely that cats develop their very own unique vocalisation patterns with their human companions, learning those which ‘work’ to elicit a desired response — for instance, to provide them attention or feed them,’ Dr Blackwell tells me.

That is an educational way of claiming that cats regard us as useful idiots. They learn to control us by trying a wide range of noises — some insistent, some babyish, some plain odd. And after they find one which works, they persist with it.

Dr Blackwell adds that since we will not in fact interpret our cats’ scents and pheromones, we must learn to review their body language for reliable clues to how they’re feeling.

The Cats Protection League offers advice on a few of the less well-known behaviours.

MeowTalk founders say they have found a formula that is able to identify a cat's meows and translate them into human languages (file image)

MeowTalk founders say they’ve found a formula that’s in a position to discover a cat’s meows and translate them into human languages (file image)

The MeowTalk app has gone viral since being launched in Japan, with 17million downloads and 250million meows recorded (file image)

The MeowTalk app has gone viral since being launched in Japan, with 17million downloads and 250million meows recorded (file image)

One is the ‘social roll’, a move I often see performed by our latest cat, Picnic. He rolls onto his back, stretches out his hind legs and bats on the air together with his forepaws. I’ve learned the hard way that this doesn’t mean, ‘Please tickle my tummy’.

No, all that the ‘social roll’ signals is a greeting. So too does an erect tail, bolt upright like a radio antenna.

Most individuals know that when a cat wags its tail, it is a sign of indecision or wariness at best, and possibly bad temper. Less familiar is something called ‘piloerection’, which suggests bristling hairs at the bottom of the tail.

This will signify over-excitement, perhaps brought on by an excessive amount of stroking, and is commonly a warning that your cat is about to nip you — one other behaviour that I will be on my guard against.

When a cat crouches, it is easy to misinterpret that as playful. But it could even be an indication your pet is fearful about something, and is on the brink of run.

Cats seem made for cuddling, however the CPL also warns there are many places that the majority moggies do not like to be touched. The highest of the pinnacle and the back of the ears are good for stroking, but keep your hands away from their back legs and undercarriage.

When a cat is relaxed, its ears can be up. Flat ears are a nasty sign. And, in fact, never rub a cat’s fur the mistaken way. That is asking for trouble. None of this, in fact, is far use to smartphone users hoping to grasp their pet with new- fangled tech. But Swedish researcher Dr Susanne Schotz, a lecturer in phonetics at Lund University, is perhaps near cracking the cat code.

There are, she says, common miaows which might be useful to know. Kittens make a small mewling sound, especially after they are cold or hungry. Adult cats often retain this, a kind of baby talk for after they need to be mothered.

A squeak that rises at the top, like a matter, is generally a plea for a snack. A moan, nonetheless, is an indication of stress.

Ultimately, though, communication with our moggies is basically personal. Dr Schotz even suspects that human accents affect the best way cats miaow.

No smartphone app is ever going to give you the option to translate a person animal’s unique vocabulary, it seems. Nevertheless, Dr Schotz does have some easy advice for owners of cats like Picnic, who doesn’t miaow much.

Check with your pets. Have a natter. After some time, they may just start talking back.

sportinbits@gmail.com
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