You blog about the human voice. So, what’s with the cat?
Ah. You must be referring to the picture of my cat that is gracing the banner of this blog as of this pressing. That’s a good question. Thanks for asking. The cat in this picture (who I will call Eldest Cat to protect her privacy) was the first cat my wife and I brought home, just a couple months after we were married, back before blogging was a thing. (If it was a thing, the name wasn’t yet a contraction. I think it was called World Wide Web Logging, or sometimes, Revealing Too Much to People You Don’t Know.)
From the very beginning, Eldest Cat would love it when we talked — especially if there was no one else in the room. If one of us talked on the phone, she would purr and jump up on that person’s shoulders (sometimes from the ground somehow, even if that person was standing). Ever since then, if I’m talking on the phone, practicing a script, praying out loud, thinking out loud, etc., Eldest Cat responds with purring, frantic meowing, and sudden clinginess. And drooling, too, but I think that’s a thing older cats just do.
As it turns out, Eldest Cat is the most talkative of our three cats. Usually it’s to inform (my stomach is empty) or to request (could you please do something about this empty stomach thing?), but sometimes we can’t figure out what she wants. I think she may be just trying to start a conversation. Those conversations often go like this:
ELDEST CAT: Meoww.
HUMAN: What? You’re hungry? (HUMAN OPENS MAGIC FOOD CABINET, MANIPULATABLE ONLY BY THOSE WITH OPPOSABLE THUMBS)
ELDEST CAT: Mroww.
HUMAN: No? What then?
ELDEST CAT: MeeeOOOOWWWWWWWW.
ELDEST CAT: Moww.
ELDEST CAT: MOWWOO!!!!
I have a feeling she thinks this is how human conversations go. You just trade vocalizing back and forth with each other, and that’s the entirety of the point. It gives you a chance to go Mowwoo and hear other people do the same. Anyway, she seems to dig it.
Incidentally, if she is trying to converse, she wouldn’t be the first animal to try to sound like people. Reports came out last fall about a beluga whale named NOC that spent its youth trying to talk like people, according to those who studied it. There’s an elephant that can speak a little Korean. And of course, there’s this.
Maybe it goes without saying that the human voice is a sound unlike any other. Babies respond to their mothers’ voices in utero, and nothing jars a new parent from sleep like the sound of their little one crying. Chances are high that one of your favorite sounds is that of a loved one’s voice — even if that voice doesn’t happen to have what would be considered a strong timbre or steady tone. That’s because a voice carries so much with it. What other sound can convey context, subtext, mood, intent, and declaration of relationship, all in a single pitch?
Eldest Cat sometimes follows me into the studio when she knows I’m about to talk to that microphone. Of course, I can never let her stay when I record, because I have yet to be given a script where it makes sense that there’s a purring cat saying mowwoo. As soon as I get a script like that, though, I’ll be happy to let her stay.