Do All Cats Meow in the Same Language?

No. A meow is literally a cat’s attempt to communicate with humans in our language.

Cats be like: “Dudes, you suck at speaking tail, whisker and scent, so we’re just gonna talk to you in your language of weird sounds and grunts.”

The little furballs are smart enough to understand that we communicate verbally, and we are entirely inept at reading body language and other ways felines exchange information with each other.

This is important, because meowing between adult cats is not really a thing.

Kittens meow to their mothers just like babies cry, but by the time cats reach adulthood they’ve learned more efficient and meaningful ways to communicate with other cats.

So when our cats meow to us and we respond, we are both creating an ad hoc way of communicating, a private language — or secret language, if you will — that makes sense to us and our cats, but no one else.

Think of it like you’re shipwrecked on an island, you don’t understand a word of what the natives are saying, but you manage to improvise a simple vocabulary of mutually-intelligible words for common things like “food,” “water,” “hunt” and so on.

My cat, Buddy, is extremely vocal. He never shuts up. And the majority of his words are either high-pitched trills (like “Brrrrrrrrt!”) or kittenish mews in a rising inflection.

So when Buddy gets up from the couch and proclaims his intentions with a loud “BRRRUUUUUP!!!”, to other cats and people it would be meaningless, but I know it means he’s about to burn off energy with the zooms, ricocheting around the house like a pinball.

(An unending stream of demands, proclamations and critiques come from this little guy.)

However, there are some sounds that appear to be common to most cats, if not universal.

A good example is the chattering sounds cats make when they’re indoors and they see birds through a window. No one is quite sure why cats do this, but one theory is that it’s an expression of simultaneous excitement and frustration: They can see the birds, but they can’t reach them to hunt and eat them.

Likewise, meowed greetings tend to sound similar, cries of pain are usually unmistakable, and the infamous solicitation purr is recognizable because it’s literally a meow with a purr embedded in it.

This is why MeowTalk, the iOS/Android “meow translation” app, recognizes a handful of universal sounds, but relies on AI algorithms to listen and figure out what each cat’s meow means.

Bottom line: Although a handful of meows are near-universal, cats are making it up as they go.

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