14 September 2021

Linguist Robert Eklund shares an Ig Nobel Prize with two other researchers for their work on how cats purr, murmur, meow, and communicate with humans in other ways. The alternative Nobel Prizes are awarded to research that makes people laugh and then think.

Cat.
More thanmeowing. Cats use many methods of communication. Photo: MikhailVasilyev/Unsplash

An impressive ability

Robert Eklund and cheetah.More than pussy cats. Robert Eklund has worked mainly with cheetahs in his research.

Robert Eklund has been awarded the biology prize together with Susanne Schötz and Joost van de Weijer from Lund University. Susanne Schötz is docent in phonetics and leads the Meowsic research project (Melody in human-cat communication), which is investigating the way in which cats talk to their owners and other humans.

Cats use a language that comprises much more than simply meowing, which may be the first thing we think of. The jury’s citation: “...for analyzing variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other modes of cat-human communication.” That’s a lot of different sounds.

“Communication between species has become a branch of science that increasing numbers of people are finding interesting. We can generally say that current research shows that animals have impressive abilities in communication, much more advanced than we have realised”, was Robert Eklund’s comment in a previous interview. He continued to discuss language melody as follows:

“They have learned to use the melody of language in a specific way in their day-to-day interaction with their owners. They way in which they learn language can tell us a great deal about how humans developed language abilities.”

The Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded in ten fields of research, and were established in 1991 by the scientific journal Annals of Improbable Research. According to their website, they are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.

The name of the award is a pun on “ignoble” and the “real” Nobel Prizes.

• More information about the award is available on the website: Improbable research

• More information about the Meowsic research project

• Robert Eklund has led a course on cats’ personality and communication since the spring term of 2019. More information is available here. The main course literature (in Swedish) is Susanne Schötz’ bok Kattens hemliga språk, which Robert Eklund recommends highly for anyone interested.

Translated by George Farrants


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