No, cats cannot understand conversational English. Cats lack the cognitive skills to interpret human language. They comprehend human language in the same way that humans understand meowing. But if you train them to do a command using a specific word, they will eventually relate that word to the command. Basically, they can understand English the same way a dog would.
In this article, we will dive deeper into the discussion of whether a cat can understand English. If you would like to learn more about this topic, keep on reading.
Do Cats Understand English?
Cats cannot understand English because they do not possess the same physiological vocal structure that humans do. However, they have the ability to understand sound and familiarize themselves to it. Similar to dogs, giving the same command line repeatedly simultaneous to an action helps cats recognize the language.
Cats do not seem to be given as much credit as dogs when it comes to their ability to grasp vocal commands the same way dogs do.
Cats are usually difficult to read, and they might feel the same way about us. Some cat owners love to talk to their cat the same way they would to a young child. As long as the domesticated cat has been with the human species, they have probably picked up some human cues. But any cat owner can attest to the fact that cats do not always give the best response.
Why does it sometimes seem like my cat understands English?
1. Cats like positive reinforcement.
Rewarding cats with treats after they have performed a commanded action successfully is one of the basics of communication between humans and cats. Cats’ assimilation to sounds implies they can communicate in any known language if they are taught and assisted. The same applies to dogs; they can learn things just as fast and react to the commands and phrases they are given.
2. Cats can learn simple commands.
Commands and words like sit, stand, and stay are basic enough even for cats. Cats, unlike dogs, deliberately refuse to follow and even forget word commands if they are not rewarded after. This is why rewarding is vital when training cats. As long as you are willing to pay your cat’s bribe demands, they can learn simple commands, be it in English or any other language.
3. Research says that cats can learn up to 50 commands or phrases.
According to scientific research, cats can learn about 50 different commands and phrases, including their names. Fifty words may seem like a small amount, but it is all the cat will ever need. Basic words like “food”, “eat”, “yes”, and “no” are useful to them. On the other hand, learning something that does not relate to their lives like “bang bang” is not beneficial to the cat. The most obscure word a cat can learn is probably its name.
4. Cats tend to respond more to a person meowing than to word commands.
Cats tend to come to you more when you call them using meowing sounds compared to word commands. This is partly because they think their owner is attempting to communicate with them specifically. They will meow at their owner and the owner will try to meow back in the same way. Eventually the cat will simply learn to link the mimicked meow sounds with talking to the owner.
5. Cats only started to produce sounds when they were domesticated.
Were it not for the involvement of humans, cats would not have a reason to ever produce sounds. They are not animals that care much about oral language; they are more into body language.
Oddly, cat meows are meant mainly for communicating with human beings, because they respond to them more than they respond to body language. Many cat owners assume they are training their pets to react to them with meowing, but it is actually the other way around. Domestic cats are aware that humans give them the best response when they meow. Therefore, they mimic the sound of a crying baby as best as possible to get a human’s attention. That is fascinating and shows how intelligent, but manipulative cats can be.
Can cats understand human beings?
The relationship between human and cats goes back nearly 10,000 years. Until today, cats are still among the most loved household pets in the world. The domestic cat population has increased so much that there are about three cats per dog.
The way dogs play, interact, and respond to human beings is different than cats. Dogs can recognize when their owners are projecting stressful energy towards them because they may react by lowering their heads. This is a behavior dogs exhibit when they realize they have done something their owner dislikes. This may also show that dogs clearly look at their human as the superior being in the relationship.
Cats, on the other hand, do not. They treat humans like fellow cats and do not see them as superior creatures. They will play with humans in the same manner they play with other cats. That is a natural characteristic and behavior of cats, yet it does not imply that they cannot be trained to match human preferences.
Can cats recognize their names?
Cats have a notorious indifference to humans. They will ignore their owners when called. However, certain studies have shown that cats do recognize their names, even if they choose to ignore them. They found that cats displayed more pronounced reactions to their own names than to similar phrases or other cats’ names. The cats responded by meowing or making body movements.
No, cats cannot understand English because they lack the cognitive skills and physiological vocal structure to interpret human language. But they can be taught to recognize up to 50 words and what they mean, including their own name. If trained with positive reinforcement, cats can learn to follow voice commands. The key is to always reward their accomplishment because they prefer to ignore commands when there is no award involved. Cats respond better when their owner meows at them because they see this as the owner attempting to communicate.
Image: istockphoto.com / andrey shalari