Thursday, June 8, 2017

English, for Animals

Most people who have pets talk to them. I think that is a true genralisation. Not everyone talks to them as if they were human, or could understand all that was being said to them, but most talk to them. I certainly do.

Moreover, I tell my cats things that they surely don’t understand. I tell them as I leave the apartment when I believe I will return. They don’t comprehend hours or minutes. They may know limited amounts, like the rabbits in Watership Down, who can count up to four; anything more than that is ‘many’ or, as rendered in the book, ‘a thousand’. My cats comprehend commands such as ‘get down’ and ‘no’; whether they obey them is irrelevant, at least to this topic.

Cats and dogs are able to learn a great many words and phrases, and sometimes we speak a certain way to make it easier for them, or so we think. An example of this in my household is the word ‘water’. All the beasts know it, and would know it if it were pronounced properly. For some reason, however, years ago, when I first met Tungsten, I started pronouncing it ‘wat-ter’, as if it were two words, with a stronger accent on neither part. Tungsten would of course have quickly caught on to the correct pronunciation, if she hadn’t known it already. But I called it ‘wat-ter’, and so it has remained. I fill bowls with ‘wat-ter’, I wash dishes in ‘wat-ter’ and I bathe in hot ‘wat-ter’.

The way we speak to our pets often becomes a part of our character. It is embarrassing therefore when we use the same phrases or words to humans as we do to animals. I usually catch myself before I ask if another person wants some ‘wat-ter’, but not always. I then pretend to have had a catch in the throat in the midst of the word. Sometimes, if it happens with another pet-owner, I explain and he or she nods. They understand ‘wat-ter’ as well as my cats do.

It may pay etymologists to create a field of their discipline devoted to the adaptation of English – and other languages – as applied to pets. It may be a dry, difficult study, though, so a prepared scholar will be ready to refresh himself with a tall, cool glass of ‘wat-ter’.


  1. I talk to the boys all the time, but usually I'm really talking out loud to myself about my day or whatever. I'm not aware of speaking words in a certain way, though. I'm sure I must, I just am not aware of it. Of course now I'll become much more so! (I think the boys certainly understand some of my gestures, though. LOL. And of course all animals can understand tone of voice!)

  2. love it....yep, pet parents do have their own language

  3. trout speech aside ~~~~

    I always find it amusing, { as there have been dogs in trout towne, and we've all done it, } when pet parents of dogs in particular, will SPELL certain words because they don't want the dog to know what's going on !!

    It's actually amazing when you think about it, how smart pets really are when it comes to vocabulary.

    My grandfather had a war dog and when he came home, his family was instructed to NEVER, under any set of circumstances, say a certain word as it was Pete's signal to attack and kill if necessary; regardless if it was a family member or not.

    My grandfather was told this "word" was ingrained into Pete during training before he shipped overseas and no one knew how to get the "word" ...basically, out of Pete's mind

    1. Ha, yes, about the spelling.

      It's rather sad about that one word being so deeply ingrained in Pete that it would always affect him. But I suspect it wasn't a common word.

  4. I chat away to Holly all the time. I think she does the cat equivalent of rolling her eyes. But when I imitate "meow" she immediately meows in response. I wonder she is trying to tell me. Even more, I wonder "what did I just say in Meow!?" I do think our pets understand much more of what we say - and are able to accurately interpret the smallest of our gestures - than we realize.

  5. Like many pet parents, I always talk to my cats, and even though I am sometimes ignored, I'm sure they understand what I'm saying. On occasion, they will even answer me back. (Willow is extremely chatty). Unfortunately, I'm not Dr. Dolittle, so I don't always understand what they say to me, but perhaps it's better not to know.

  6. I know Katie understands a few words..maybe 10 or so. And all mealtime words. Embarrassed to say that breakfast is "breckfusht", supper is "schupper" And all is spoken much a higher pitch, softer in tone when I speak to the cat(s) through the years. She does understand "come here" and "come on" "come to mama" "Let's go to bed" "good morning" (I get special headbonks and side rubs when I say that...) In other words, I have to admit to baby talking to her. On the phone with friends, I have heard others doing the same to their cats too. It's instinctive I think?

  7. Miss pops seems to understand hello when I get home and like you I tell her goodbye and good night. I think she understands jellimeat and water too. It would be fascinating to know what they understand.

  8. Oh it's good to see Tungsten again!
    There is and interesting book out about dogs. It was written by Alexandra Horowitz of Columbia Univ. and her studies show that dogs can tell time by various methods using smell. It is not known if cats are can do the same because they are not particularly cooperative subjects. If dogs can do it, I suspect cats can too and maybe a bit better. Cat lady here.
    The books title is Inside of a Dog. If you only read one of the articles about the book, you will find it quite fascinating especially when we relate it to our cats.

  9. I always had conversations with Flynn, and some were quite long. I am sure he understood a lot of what was said, if not by words then by tone of voice. One thing I know he understood. I would say in a normal voice, "Does anyone want cuddle buds?". He was never a lap cat but would love to cuddle in my arms. As soon as I said it he would jump up to climb into my arms.

  10. Mommy always talks to us. And we totally know what she means. When she leaves, we 'spect her home in a certain amount of time dependin' on where she says she's goin'. Ifin she's late, we're sittin' on da cat tree meowin' and lookin' out da window when she returns. Dat is whoever stayed home is. Big hugs

    Luv ya'

    Dezi and Raena

  11. I understand, I do the same thing :)

  12. I also talk to my cats. I believe, that they understand me a little bit. They can't count hours, but when I'm coming back home they're waiting for me near the door - they can't know that I'm close, they can stand near the door about 5-7 minutes before I'm back. Usually I'm leaving undergound station this time.
    I'm speaking the same way to everyone - cats, people, daughter. I like to tell them how my day is going, what did I learn, how I feel, sometimes I ask them how they feel, if they are hungry etc. they can't answer me, but they sometimes try to, they meow to me, come to me and I feel like they nderstand me - even if they don't.
    I think it's easier for me to believe, that they know what I mean.