1
$\begingroup$

Are you fed up with never being sure precisely what your furry companion is pestering you for?

Using selective breeding techniques & (initially at least) ignoring any changes to brain structures that may be indicated to take full advantage (such as increasing the size of areas associated with speech & vocal communication in humans and other animals).

Which physical structures do we need to modify if we wanted to selectively breed cats physically capable of intelligible speech, what would we select for in what order?

$\endgroup$
13
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I don't think you can get this through selective breeding. Not on any non-geological time scale. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Mar 19, 2022 at 19:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ We're not talking about one major change. We're not even talking about a series of changes. We're talking about a system of changes, some of which are not obviously evident in the early stages. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Mar 19, 2022 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ Even if you ignore neurology, this would be like trying to breed the beaks out of birds. Look up why humans can choke on their own food. That's one of the consequences of us being able to talk compared to other animals. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Mar 19, 2022 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen Breeding the beaks out of birds can be done in four generations or less if you have just one with the required debilitating mutation to start with, which is probably not that hard to come by to be honest, that if anything is an easier proposition than the one I'm making, suggestive that you don't really know the subject 😉 but as I already said, if you're sure go ahead and do a frame challenge answer 🤗 $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 19, 2022 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ Good luck surviving through that mutation. I assume the objective is to get a working animal. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Mar 19, 2022 at 19:38

2 Answers 2

2
$\begingroup$

Physical equipment

When cats mew, they release controlled puffs of air from their lungs through their larynx so the vocal chords vibrate, making the sound. It means that physical equipment is present.

To talk, cats need flexibility in the mouth, tongue and lips that will let them form a wide range of precise sounds. This may also be present.

Broca’s area and Brodmann area 47

But the most important thing is the brain's processing power. The Broca’s area in the cerebrum of human brain is closely associated with speech comprehension. Broca’s area is more than 6 times larger in humans than chimpanzees. Also Brodmann area 47, a nearby patch of brain, is important for extracting meaning from words. Brodmann area 47 has been implicated in the processing of syntax in spoken and signed languages, and more recently in musical syntax.

To make cats talk, increase the

  • overall size of brain
  • processing power of brain
  • Broca’s area
  • Brodmann area 47
$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore I changed my answer. $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Mar 20, 2022 at 14:23
1
$\begingroup$

Physiology already comes quite close

Q: "if we wanted to selectively breed cats physically capable of intelligible speech, what would we select for in what order?"

Physiological challenges

The vocal tract system, that is vocal chords, nasal cavity and mouth cavity shape is moved around by certain muscles, to produce the sounds of speech. These sounds are called phonemes. The animal does not need to produce all phonemes, it should sound familiar and recognizable.

There's a lot already in place: cat is a mammal, a cat has a mouth cavity and vocal chords comparable to humans, except it is scaled down. A cat is equipped with accurate muscle control, there will be no issue with bending vowels (we all know how that sounds)

But to produce actual phonemes and let humans comprehend these phonemes, a cat may be too small. As a result of mouth size and vocal chords size, its frequencies are too high up. As for the vocal chords, I did hear cats produce low pitch sounds at night, but these sounds are associated with stress and fights with other cats. Cats would need to learn (or train) when these sounds are appropriate in the house. Also, cats have continuous vowels, it can go like "meiauw", while the human speech requires them to produce discrete vowels. It may help to select kittens that produce "hicky" or "stuttering" sounds rather than long mews.

Breeding:

  • To overcome the high pitch issue, it would help to breed bigger cats, or cats with a bigger head.
  • if you want your cat to properly control the muscles involved, make sure you select your cats for intelligence!
  • Enlarging the brain by breeding is not easy, the skull always lags behind such measures, resulting in pressure and head aches. One option may be a trick: breed bad eyes in cats. Gradually, they will loose more eyesight - not needed in the home anyway - and free up more of their brain for listening and speech production.

Only words and mimicking

Look at parrots. They can make sounds resembling speech, they can mimic utterances. But still, they need to hear an example. Your cat will too, it will mimic your speech, rather than talk spontaneously.

Breeding:

  • Breed social cats, not solitary cats. Smart cats, responsive cats.
  • Focus on variability. Breed cats that tend to make many different sounds.

The rest.. will be up to the cat's owner. When the owner is prepared to invest time, play with the cat, learn the cat to associate certain sounds with certain situations. Not unlike mothers do, with toddlers. Chance is, your pet will pick up the associations and produce speech-like sounds, instead of mewing.

$\endgroup$
13
  • $\begingroup$ "centuries of breeding and training" I'd have to dispute that, the adjustments that can be made to a species with less than two years to breeding maturity in just a single human lifetime is significant, case in point the the Belgium Blue was first developed in the 1800s & the modern breed we know today in the 1950s, so, we might say it took only a decade or (most) conservative only 150 years. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 20, 2022 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ "training" training is irrelevant to the question, has nothing to do with it, l only asked which physical traits (albeit mostly internal, or at least semi internal, structures) do we need to breed for. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 20, 2022 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore no training ? what do you want your cat to say to you ? (if you declare training not to be applicable here I'm afraid I'll have to put a frame challenge instead.. you can't breed "talking cat" like you would breed a cat with different color or size) $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Mar 20, 2022 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ Want? 🤔 nothing, it would be more a case of curiosity about what it would say (if anything at all) if it could than want it to say anything particular 😁 but we diverge from the question there 🤗 why someone wants this is character motivation and decisions, off topic for the site & l'm not asking about that 🙂 $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 20, 2022 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore I was not asking about the "why", my question was "what" you expect from your talking cat. Maybe you could breed a cat to make human-like speech sounds.. but could that be qualified as "talking" ? Maybe this is a English-issue on my side, but I would qualify the term "talking" as using speech to express language. If you expect random speech sounds, my answer could be simplified considerably. But even so, you won't be able to achieve that iwithout affecting the brain in any way. Face muscles involved in making speech sounds need to receive commands from the brain, in order to move. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Mar 20, 2022 at 7:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .