Archive for Animal communication

Cat got your tongue? Or do you have its?

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

If you’re Japanese, chances are it’s the latter.

Nekojita (猫舌 lit. “cat’s tongue”) is a phrase in Japanese most commonly used to describe people who can’t or don’t like to eat or drink hot things. The word means both the actual tongue itself and, by extension, a person with a cat’s tongue. In other words, it is a synecdoche.

The term is common in Japan, reflecting the fact that many people consider themselves to be/have cat tongues; in a 2018 survey of 10,000 Japanese of all ages, about half described themselves as nekojita. The results are summed up in the accompanying image, in which pink indicates those who answered yes to the question, “Are you nekojita?” As you can see, more than half of 10-49-year-olds consider themselves to have heat-sensitive tongues.

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Cat huffing and snorting in Japanese and Chinese

Full disclosure:  I'm not an expert on felines, except sort of for Hello Kitty.  I've owned a lot of dogs, but have never had a kitty kat since the time I was a little boy.  I have a poor understanding of their psychology and behavior, although I very much like to observe them, especially when they're sleeping or sunning themselves, and I love to hear them purr.  Occasionally it's fun to pet them, and I like it when they walk around my legs, twirling / wrapping their tail as they go.

Here's a reddit thread from last fall:

Posted by u/Curious_Cilantro, Oct. 1, 2021

[Chinese] xīmāo 吸猫 – to zone out and enjoy the company of a cat, as if it were a drug. Lit. “snort/suck cat”

Example: After work, I just want to relax at home and xīmāo 吸猫 (enjoy my cat’s company).

It’s a new phrase mostly used by young people. Since snorting drugs is xīdú 吸毒,and cats are so charismatic, appreciating their company is like snorting a drug that helps you relax.

A variation is yún xī māo 云吸猫 (cloud snort cat), which refers to browsing pictures and videos of cats online. A significant portion of reddit is dedicated to accommodating this activity.

[VHM:  Romanizations / Hanyu Pinyin added]

A screenshot of this has been making the rounds on Facebook, shared via the page "Cats on Cocaine" (CokedOutCats), appropriately enough.

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Canine intonations

I live in a duplex.  Even though the two houses are separated by a thick brick wall, I sometimes hear sounds coming from my neighbor's place.  The most conspicuous are the vocalizations made by her dog, Izzy.

Izzy is some kind of South Carolina coon hound.  We live in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, but my neighbor got her female dog from a rescue service in South Carolina.

Izzy is quirky.  She is unique.  I have never heard any other dog like her.  She doesn't just bark; she talks.  Izzy's voice projects emphasis, querulousness, inquiry, complaint, displeasure, joy, dismay, and a whole range of other emotions and intentions.  Sometimes she seems to be talking to herself (muttering and mumbling), and sometimes she seems to be communicating with her owner or other people around her.

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Annals of interspecies communication

In the unlikely event that you've missed it — "The latest thing on Zoom meetings: A live goat":

At this point in the pandemic, Zoom fatigue is universal. But one woman has a solution you never knew you needed: a live goat on the call.

Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Lancashire, England, has been offering up their goats to make spontaneous, up-close appearances in virtual meetings anywhere in the world.

“It started as a joke. It wasn’t actually supposed to be a thing,” said Dot McCarthy, 32, who runs the family farm, which spans two generations.

The goats drop in on otherwise mundane virtual gatherings, including seemingly serious business meetings, birthday parties, baby showers and high school math lessons. Out of nowhere, a goat will appear in the meeting with its name displayed on the screen.

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Canine backtalk

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Communicating with cats and dogs

On twitter a few days ago:

Today's Liberty Meadows:

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Calling (a) moose

Headline from the Bangor Daily News (Feb. 13, 2019): "Maine now holds the world record for most people calling a moose at the same time."

Screenshot for posterity:

Update: The headline has been changed to read, "Maine now holds the world record for simultaneous moose-calling."

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Speech like birds chirping

When human beings hear others speaking but are unable to comprehend what is being said, to what do they compare such speech?  We will gain one common characterization from this article about a prematurely dying Iraqi dialect:

"Iraqis amid Mosul's silent ruins fear the loss of a dialect", by Sam Kimball, SFGate (2/1/19)

It begins thus:

For centuries, residents of Mosul have spoken a unique form of Arabic enriched by the Iraqi city's long history as a crossroads of civilization, a singsong dialect that many now fear will die out after years of war and displacement.

Much of Mosul's Old City, where speakers of the dialect are concentrated, was completely destroyed in the war against the Islamic State group. Thousands of residents were killed in months of heavy fighting, and tens of thousands fled, taking with them the city's local patois and memories of its more cosmopolitan past.

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Corgi fighting words

Viral video of two corgis exchanging angry barks:

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The (Non-) Evolution of language

"Koko, the Gorilla Who Knew Sign Language, Dies at 46", Associated Press 6/21/2018:

Koko the gorilla who mastered sign language, raised kittens and once playfully tried on the glasses of the late actor Robin Williams, has died. She was 46.

The Gorilla Foundation says the western lowland gorilla died in her sleep at the foundation's preserve in California's Santa Cruz mountains on Tuesday.

Koko's capacity for language and empathy opened the minds and hearts of millions of people, the foundation said. She appeared in many documentaries and twice in National Geographic. The gorilla's 1978 cover featured a photo that the animal had taken of herself in a mirror.

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"Wait, wait, don't orca me"

Yesterday's edition of the comedy radio news quiz "Wait, wait, don't tell me" featured some discussion of the Talking Orcas story that Geoff Pullum discussed a few days ago in "Orca emits speech-like sound; reporters go insane", 1/31/2018. The whole discussion is worth a listen:


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Zebra finch self-tutoring

Sometimes a new experimental result suggests a very different way of interpreting older results. On a visit a couple of days ago to Ofer Tchernichovski's lab at Hunter College, I encountered a striking example of this effect.

The background is the experimental literature on zebra finch song learning. If one of these birds is raised in acoustic and social isolation, it never learns to sing a species-typical song, but rather continues to produce "proto-song", which is a sort of songbird equivalent of grunts and groans. In contrast, with a relatively brief exposure to an example of adult song during a "critical period" early in life, a bird will (later on) learn to sing properly, in fact imitating the tutor's song quite closely. Crucially, species-typical zebra finch song is made up of discrete "syllables" arranged in regular "motifs", whereas proto-song is relatively diffuse and non-categorical at all time scales.

A decade ago, I reported on some fascinating work from Ofer's lab showing that species-typical song can emerge over a few generations in a colony raised in acoustic isolation, never encountering any external adult models ("Creole birdsong?" 5/9/2008).

Now a newer experiment (Olga Fehér et al., "Statistical learning in songbirds: from self-tutoring to song culture", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 2016) adds a result that makes us think differently about the earlier work.

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Grunt, set, and match

"Who'll win at Wimbledon? Just listen to the pitch of the grunts", University of Sussex press release 7/4/2017:

Never mind counting aces and killer shots. If you want to predict the outcome of a tennis match, pay attention to the players’ grunts.

As Wimbledon prepares for another year of the on-court cacophony from the likes of Rafael Nadal and Victoria Azarenka, a new study has revealed that grunts produced by players during tennis matches they lost were higher in voice pitch than during the matches they won.

What’s more, psychologists at the University of Sussex found that players displayed differences in their grunt pitch long before the scoreboard made it clear whether they would win or lose.

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