I’ve been thinking about animal language ever since I learned that scientists and chimps were working together to design computer programs to enable the apes to communicate with us. While I appreciate that monkeys are learning to type, and that humans are now privy to several kinds of animal communication—the dances of bees, the calls of birds, the songs of whales, and the eerie echoings of dolphins—I’m curious to know what conversations people are having with animals.
So I’ve decided to join the ranks of researchers fearlessly forging the frontiers of animal language. After years of meaningless one-sided conversations with my furry little roommate, Nandikins Greyshanks Binks, I’ve decided to start learning Cat. And I thought it would be nice to begin with “I love you.” How do cats communicate that sentiment? I repaired to the study for a bit of research.
In The New Natural Cat, Anitra Frazier suggests that cats rarely communicate by sound (a.k.a. language). Instead, they have “a vast and rich vocabulary of body postures, poses … and actions with which they communicate.” When cats are contented and secure, they slowly blink their eyes. So Frazier suggests that to whisper “sweet nothings” in your cat’s ear, you don’t need to make a sound; all you need to do is catch the cat’s eye across the room and slowly blink. If she’s feeling the love too, chances are she’ll return the sentiment in kind.
So that’s the language learning challenge for May. Try out an animal language this week–and let me know your results.