If you’ve wanted to know your cat’s motivations for some behavior — say, running out of the room at top speed for no apparent reason — meows might hold clues to what’s inside those mysterious minds.
Scholar Susanne Schötz has begun a five-year study called “Meowsic” to find how cats communicate with people via meows, the Washington Post reports. In addition, she thinks the results could help people use similar intonations to speak to cats.
Schötz, an associate professor of phonetics at Lund University in Sweden, has turned acoustic analysis tools typically used for people onto cats. She wants to create a sort of lexicon for cat meows or, “prosodic typology of cat vocalizations,” according to the Meowsic project website.
In particular, she’d like to know how cats use rising and falling intonation to get their points across. She’s working from a list that breaks down meows into categories: closed mouth, open mouth and open tense mouth. The last category features all those super uptight sounds your cat makes when he or she is clearly upset. Each category has sub-types and Schötz has listed what each vocalization could mean.
Research on cat meows began in earnest in 1944, when Mildred Moelk came up with the original canon of cat sounds: 16 distinct patterns in three categories. Beyond simply meows, she detailed mouth-open, heavy breathing sounds, like hissing and shrieking, the aggressive vocalizations. Others include closed-mouth sounds like purrs and trills, which seem to mean contentedness.
Schötz research takes the next step in analyzing these meows, and we are looking forward to seeing what she finds out so we can figure out what our cats keep trying to tell us.