Study Says We Should Use Baby Talk With Cats, Buddy Disagrees

Cats are more responsive when their humans use “baby talk” to address them, a new study claims.

A research team from Paris Nanterre University played a series of recordings for cats. One set of recordings featured a stranger addressing each cat, while another set featured the cat’s human servant calling to the cat.

Each set also had clips in two different tones of voice: one in which the humans spoke to the cats in a tone normally reserved for addressing fellow adults, and another in which they baby-talked their felines.

Not surprisingly the cats were mostly content to ignore the strangers calling them by name even when the strangers used higher-pitched tones, but “displayed a constellation of behaviors suggesting increased attentiveness” when they heard audio of their humans calling them.

The kitties were even more responsive when their humans used the “sing-songy” tone of voice many people reserve for pets, babies, young children and Texans. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself! I’m still salty over my Yankees getting swept by the Astros.)

The research team said the study, which was published today in the journal Animal Cognition, was yet another piece of evidence showing felines are not the ultra-stoic, emotionless animals they’ve been portrayed as for as long as anyone can remember.

β€œFor a long time it has been thought that cats are very independent creatures, only interested in [humans for] eating and shelter, but the fact that they react specifically to their owner, and not just anybody addressing them, supports the idea that they are attached,” said Charlotte de Mouzon, the paper’s lead author. β€œIt brings further evidence to encourage humans to consider cats as sensitive and communicative individuals.”

Although the study included just 16 cats — sample size is a recurring problem in feline-related studies, since researchers often have to travel to the homes of house cats to study their normal behavior — it’s just the latest bit of research on tone in human-cat communication.

Those studies tend to use terms like “pet-directed speech” and “kitten-directed speech” instead of baby talk.

As I wrote last year, I don’t use baby talk with Buddy, and I tend to think of him as, well, my little buddy instead of my “child,” as so many “pet parents” do. That’s not to say I think people who view their pets that way are doing it wrong, or that I don’t have parental feelings toward Bud. Of course I do.

But as I also wrote, Buddy does not tolerate baby talk. I joked that he’d paw-smack me if I spoke to him that way, and indeed he has nipped at me and dispensed warning slaps the handful of times I’ve come close to addressing him that way.

Bud Da Widdle Baby
“Aw! Widdle Buddy is angwy, huh?”

I think it’s because of the way I raised him. He’s not accustomed to it, and he finds it annoying. That makes sense, and it comports with the study authors’ suggestions that the one-on-one relationship between feline and human is an important factor in many facets of cat communication.

But maybe if I’m prepared to dodge a few angry paws I can use the threat of baby talk to nudge Buddy toward being more responsive during those times when he doesn’t feel like coming when called or stopping some important work he’s engrossed in, like chattering away at birds outside.

“Bud! Hey, Bud! Listen to me. I’m talking to you,” I might say. “Okay, have it your way. Who’s da little Buddy wuddy who isn’t wistening to me, huh? Who’s da widdle cwanky boy?”

I’m pretty sure he’ll launch himself at me with a derisive “Mrrrrppp!” and take a big swipe. Haha!

But maybe, just maybe, he’ll be more inclined to listen. Do you baby talk your cats?

20 thoughts on “Study Says We Should Use Baby Talk With Cats, Buddy Disagrees”

  1. No I do not & never will talk baby talk to Oreo, I will not be insulting him with anything off the sort or playing country music from Texas to soothe him (J/K Sorry passing the salt back…damn Yankees, damn Houston 😐). I always say it Oreo is 20lbs of man cat, I think he’d not come & maybe even keep his distance if I spoke some new kinda way, especially if I said things that made me sound bat s*** crazy. You had it right, it’s the relationship to the person & the cat. Had I started out doing that widdle bitty ting n givin him his foodyz then maybe he wouldn’t give me the stink eye or swat me if I spoke in that tone because that would be all he’s ever known. However, I always spoke to him like I speak to everyone else & we’re doing fine (Minus that Yankee business…smhπŸ€¦β€β™€οΈ) so let’s get on with Buddy Bizz as usual & let’s not talk to our cats any other way than we do. We’ll all be better for it. They can spend that study money on finding homes for rescue cats or other cat related issues, like cat medical problems. As I see it, it would be money better well spent on something that cats really need. Best to you both ALWAYS! πŸ‘£πŸΎπŸΎ 😱⚾️🀬

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Ha ha, I wouldn’t dare talk to Bella or Bertie in Baby speak. I value my skin too much! – we generally talk to her in normal human language and obviously, she responds by either shouting ( if she wants doors opening ) or mewling ( if she wants to appear cute, so she gets treats…)

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I never talk to Tux that way and didn’t, for the most part, to my human kids growing up! That is why they learned big words (and a few swear words) at an early age. I am convinced Tux has as well!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The closest I get to baby talk is at the vets. I am trying (not very successfully) to convince Milly that the vets are in fact Not out to kill her… Despite her long held beliefs! I’m like Milly, if you give the vet half a chance they could actually learn to like you, you know, instead of trying to take their blood… The vets howl with laughter.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They’re pros at handling angry cats. They have to be. I just saw some spiffy invention that’s designed to help cats calm down and provide access to their paws for trimming, examining and such. Can’t remember the name offhand, but I’ll look for it again and post if I can find it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I need to know what that invention is. I’m tired of trying to keep my kitties wrapped like burritos whilst trying to clip those deadly little paw knives! Do a whole story about it please. πŸ˜€

        Liked by 2 people

  5. How well I know the baby talk routine! I have always used some form on my pets. My big black furry rescue always gets more of a semi high pitched talk, which he seems to like. He is quit a talker and seems to like it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The nature/nurture aspect of this is interesting. Cats who have been raised in baby talk since kittenhood probably have it drilled into their heads that baby talk = human talking to them, all other tones are for others. Which is what this study and others backs up with findings.

      In terms of making it easy for cats to understand if they’re being addressed, baby talk is probably better. I’d still get paw slapped if I tried it though. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A) No, I don’t use human baby-talk on my cats. I talk to them in normal English, although at a higher pitch. Maybe that’s why they respond so quickly when I roar at them for disobeying, like getting up on the kitchen counters.
    B) I don’t treat my cats like my children, although I am almost as attached to them as I would be to my children. They are definitely my dependents. Same thing with my dogs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yup. Considering them our children isn’t a precondition for having parental feelings toward them.

      A friend of mine mockingly asked how much I was saving for Buddy’s college tuition lol.

      “No catnip for you until you improve your grades, mister! You’ll never get into a good school if you keep slacking off and sleep 16 hours a day….”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Don’t you know that really on-the-ball parents put their children into prestigious pre-schools? You should have been on top of this when the little Bud was a kitten! As soon as you looked into those big cute eyes, you should have put him on the right waiting lists. Now he’s hopelessly behind. No wonder he doesn’t like the floppy fish toy!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I think of it as ” love talk” or “sweet talk “. I don’t change the pronunciation of words, but I talk affectionately and hug and pet and kiss my kitty, all the while telling him how wonderful he is and how much I love him.
    In other words, I validate my kitty’s own opinion and just tell the truth. 😻

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I’ve always talked in Baby talk to all of my animals, no matter what species they are. It’s just what I do. I don’t do it all the time though, so my cats hear both ways of me talking to them. I don’t find it offensive or stupid, I find loving and endearing. I love my animals and it shows in my voice!

    I also think of my pets as my kids in a way. I don’t dress them up or anything like that, but I’d do anything for my pets. Hell, I’d die protecting my pets. They are a huge part of my life and I can’t live my life without at least one kind of animal or another in my life.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Okay mee iss o-fish-allee WEERD Buddy! Mee LOVESS when BellaSita Mum talkss ‘baby talk’ to me as callss mee “littel girl” an her “Bee Girl” An shee made up a song to sign to me……it calmss mee rite down.
    Sure mee ISS a tuff ruff semi-feral cat butt sumtimess it iss nice to bee inndulged an made a fuss of….mew mew mew….
    **nose rubss** BellaDharma

    Liked by 2 people

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