Do Cats Have Accents? Scientists Study Feline Communication

cat accent cluedo uno dialect study
Cluedo, a French cat living in England, may have a different accent to his London neighbors. Newsweek

Meow, miaou, yaong, nyan, näu: Humans say 'meow' in different ways, depending on what part of the world they're from, but do cats? This is the question researchers at Lund University in Sweden are trying to answer in a new study on feline communication.

Over the course of the next five years, phonetics specialists will look at cats and their human companions from two separate regions of Sweden to study intonation, voice and speaking style in human speech addressed to cats, as well as in cat vocalizations addressed to humans.

"We want to find out if cats from different regions have different 'accents,'" Susanne Schötz, an associate professor of phonetics at Lund University and one of the researchers involved in the study, tells Newsweek.

"It seems that cats and their human companions together develop some kind of unique 'pidgin language' in their vocal communication, and it is not impossible that some of the accent or dialect features of the human speech is included in the vocal signals of the cat as well."

It would not be the first time that animals from different regions have been shown to have variation in their vocalizations. A 2011 study found that birds living in an urban environment had different songs to birds of the same species living in the countryside. A separate study from 2011 revealed that sperm whales have different dialects depending on what part of the world they are from.

Schötz and the other researchers also hope to find out if cats' meows have different meanings in different contexts in the hope of understanding and ultimately improving relations between cats and humans.

"We hope to find distinct melodic patterns that can be related to specific situations, as well as find that cats in different geographic locations adapt their melodies—at least to some extent—to the human language and the accents or dialects spoken around them," Schötz says.

"If we can relate different types of melodies to different situations or different accents we hope to contribute to improving human-cat communication and also the quality of life for cats."