Melody in human - cat communication (MEOWSIC)

Susanne Schötz: Associate Professor in Phonetics, Lecturer at Logopedics, Phoniatrics and Audiology, Lund University
Joost van de Weijer: Associate Professor in General Linguistics, Lund University
Robert Eklund: Associate Professor in Language, Culture and Phonetics and in Computational Linguistics, Linneaus University

A phonetic research project aiming at understanding how cats and humans use melody and other prosodic features when they communicate with each other

The purpose of this project is to study the communication between humans and domestic cats. Specifically, we investigate how the prosody, including the voice, melody (intonation) and speaking style – in human speech as well as in cat vocalisations – influence the vocal communication. In Study 1 we investigate how cats vary their melody (intonation) in human-directed and cat-directed vocalisations. How is cat prosody varied in different contexts or situations? How do human listeners perceive this intonational variation? Study 2 will apply new methods to examine how cats perceive different prosodic cues in human speech. Do they distinguish between different voices (familiar-unfamiliar, adults-children) and speaking styles (pet-directed, adult-directed), and do they prefer certain intonation patterns? The project primarily concerns basic research and represents pioneering work within human–cat communication. Our results may lead to an improved quality of life for cats and potentially for other companion animals (pets) as well. Understanding the vocal strategies used by humans and cats in human–cat communication will have profound implications for our understanding of how we communicate with our pets in general, and has the potential to improve the relation between animals and humans within several fields, including animal therapy, veterinary medicine, and animal sheltering. The project is funded by the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg foundation (MAW) 2016-2022.

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