Susanne Schötz, Reader in Phonetics at Lund University's Centre for Languages and Literature, in January released The Secret Language of Cats, a guide to the way cats communicate which builds on eight years of research into cat-human communication.
“Cats can imitate nuances in their owners' voices, such as melody patterns, in order to be able to communicate better,” Schötz told the Sydsvenskan newspaper.
Schötz has been recording and analyzing “cat vocalizations such as purrs, trills, meows, howls, growls, hisses and chirps”, studying how the animals change the shape of their mouths to make different sounds, and investigating the level of variation between cats from different regions.
The most surprising result, she said, was just how much variety there was, both between different cats and from the same cat.
The most common cat noise, she said, was the 'meow', which cats use to get attention and ask for something.
“If my cat meows with a melody which ends on an upward note when she is sitting by her bowl, it means without doubt that she wants food,” Schötz explained.
“If she is sitting in a cage at the vets, the meowing is more monotonous and goes down at the end. That means she is worried and wants to be released.”
In the below video, record by Schötz, a cat called Moses greets its owner.
So far there is little evidence that cats have dialects like humans, she said.
“I'm currently looking at and comparing voices from 70 cats from Skåne, Stockholm and Östergötland, and after listening to many of their voices I still haven't found any significant differences”.
But she said each cat's voice was unique nonetheless.
“They have individual voices which depend on what breed they are and on whether they are a male or female cat,” Schötz told Sydsvenskan.
Part of her research has been carried out through the MEOWSIC phonetics project funded by the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation.
Schötz herself has five cats, Donna, Rocky, Turbo, Vimsan and Kompis, all of whom feature in her book.
She recently launched the Cat Lady Sweden website to promote her work on human-cat interaction.