2 A Few Words
You may not believe this, especially since Bingley was so quiet when he first got home with us, but before too long he began to teach us a few words and to understand a few of ours.
You already know about how he chose his name and that he is a foodie if not a gourmet.
One evening, as the tide of dinner-hour was rolling in, I asked my wife if she thought Bingley was ready for his food.
He was sitting in my lap, and when he heard the word food, he stood up, looked me straight in the eye, and placed one of his paws on my chin. I asked him, “Are you ready for food?”
He said, “Mmao?” The initial sound is a kind of trilled m–I can’t make it, but it’s one of Bingley’s standard phonemes. I tried my best to duplicate his sound anyway.
“Is that what you call it: Mao?”
“Mmao!” He said, and he jumped off my lap and dashed to the cupboard where we keep his food. When I got there, he said it again. I fed him as quickly as I could, and he seemed happy as could be. After supper–his and ours–he came back and jumped in my lap, turned around a couple times, settled down, and sighed loudly and contentedly. He had taught us our first important word.
A few days later we found out that his word for milk is the same as ours–his is just higher pitched. Cat language must be tonal. We give him Cat-Sip, which doesn’t have the chemicals problematic to cats. I asked if he wanted milk, and he replied “Miiilk,” without the trilled m and with a rising and then falling tone, higher pitched than his usual vocalizations.
I love the sound he makes when he drinks: a hearty laplaplaplaplap that you can hear across the room. He came away from his drink with his eyes scrunched a little and with a smile on his face: his usual signs of relaxed pleasure.
One day when I got home a little late from work (and so late for his dinner time), as I fumbled with the key I could hear Bingley on the other side of the door repeating “Myao-rao, myao-rao,” with stress and higher pitch on the second syllable: I’ve since learned that means either “open the door!” or “let me through!” I don’t think there’s a “please” in there, though.
I’ve heard him say the traditional meow only once. A tomcat from a few houses down was strolling through our back yard and decided to stop to relieve his bladder at our crabapple tree. Bingley and I were watching through the back window. Bingley’s meow was more like a howl, a “meee-YOWW!” followed by a hiss–another sound he’s seldom made, at least with us. He must have felt his property was being invaded, even though he stays indoors.
We had a lot more yet to learn about language, and so did Bingley. For instance, every morning he gets the “Kitty Tour”: I say the words, and he runs over and scrambles up on my shoulder, and we walk around the inside of the house stopping at all the spots where he finds it’s important to sniff or rub his chin and leave a little scent. The tour was easier for me when we got him and he weighed eleven pounds. Now he’s about eighteen, so I get a better workout than I used to. He just calls it “tour,” since he doesn’t see himself as a kitty. But that’s a subject for the next post.