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What Does a Cat Say In Japanese? In French? In Greek?

What Does a Cat Say In Japanese? In French? In Greek?

If you are a native English speaker, then you presumably believe that all kittens say “mew” and all cats say “meow,” but you would be mistaken. Cats in Korea say “yaong.” In Turkey they say “miyauv,” while in Japan they say “nyan.”

Of course, domesticated cats have their own language in which they communicate with each other and with us, their human caretakers, and this seems to vary little across continents. It is our interpretation of the cat’s meow however that changes from country to country.

While circumnavigating the globe when I was in my early twenties, I started recording the different ways humans interpreted common animal sounds. For example, I would ask fellow travelers, “In your native language, what does a dog say? A pig? A cat?” While common themes emerged, sometimes, the answer would seem to come from left field and send us native English speakers into peels of laughter. French children, for example, are taught, that a pig says “groin, groin” rather than “oink, oink.” I did notice however that depending on the intimacy a culture had with a particular animal, the closer the human interpretation was to the real animal sound.

Being a bonafide cat lover, I was particularly interested in how the basic cat vocalization — “meow” in English — was interpreted cross-culturally. This is what I learned (in no particular order):

  • Catalan: Meu
  • Chinese: Mao
  • Danish: Miaav
  • Dutch: Miauw
  • Finnish: Miau or Kurnau
  • French: Miaou
  • Greek: Naiou
  • Hebrew: Miau or Miya
  • Hungarian: Miaaau
  • Japanese: Nyan
  • Korean: Yaong or Nyaong
  • Norwegian: Mjau
  • Portuguese: Miau
  • Spanish: Miau

As you can see from this list, the cat’s basic “meow” is widely interpreted by different languages, but do share a recognizable sound pattern that probably makes sense to you regardless of your ability to speak these 14 different languages.  The spelling/sound differences may be more from the  limitations/parameters that each language has rather than a real difference in translating cat sounds.  I am sure a trained linguist would have much to say on this subject, but alas, I am merely an cultural anthropologist. If you are a linguist, please add your two cents! Also, if you are a native speaker of a language not listed above, please add to this list. (Any Armenian, Urdu or Hmong speakers out there??)

So, rest assured that if you and your cat move from one country to another, both of you will at least speak one language — that of cat!

Related:
What Cats Signal With Their Tails
Reading Your Cat’s Body Language
Proof That Cats Talk (Video)
10 Fantastic Cat Facts

Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Feline Muse, Pets, , , , , , , , , ,

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Cherise Udell

Cherise Udell is a mom, clean air advocate, anthropologist and feline aficionado with the nomadic habit of taking spontaneous sojourns to unusual destinations. Before her adventures in motherhood, she was an intrepid Amazon jungle guide equipped with a pair of sturdy wellingtons and a 24-inch machete, as well as a volunteer at a rainforest animal rescue center.

98 comments

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10:40AM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

good to know

10:39AM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

In Greek is Nyaou not Naiou

7:52AM PDT on Mar 25, 2014

Thanks for Sharing =^..^=

8:14AM PST on Feb 5, 2014

Note to Anne M.: do you have to be abusive discussing another reader´s opinion?

Science is finally learning to stop putting animals in the idiot category. Animals are extraordinarily intelligent in many ways: for example, the architectural ingenuity and beauty of bird´s nests astounds human engineers..When animals talk to us they cannot form words, and neither can our closest relatives, chimps, because unlike the first simians to eventually become human, they still walk on all fours. What evolved us was our standing on two feet, which grew our brain size, curiosity about the world around us, and thus, our intelligence and ingenuity...It also caused out vocal chords to drop in our throats, allowing us to speak and form words... and therefore, our creating vocabulary and conversation. Animals can only make limited sounds because their chords are high in their throats due to walking on all fours. Of course, animals converse, in their own ways, some more ingeniously than others, but in sounds and sound combinations ...a primitve form of language but it works for them.And, if you try, you can understand what they want to say most of the time.

8:33AM PST on Jan 1, 2014

Nice! :3

1:59PM PDT on Oct 26, 2013

It's very interesting how different cultures interpret animals’ language.
In Ukrainian cats say ‘Niav’. The letters ‘ia’ sound like one very soft vowel (e.g. like in French ‘la’), making the ‘n’ sound softer, too.
As for others: dogs say ‘gahv’, cows--‘moo’, frogs--‘qua-qua’, pigs--‘hru-hru’ (strong consonants), chickens--‘ku-ku-ree-kuh’ (male) and ‘ko-ko’ (female) LOL it’s weird to write these in English.

BTW I guess it depends on certain animal, since they all seem to sound differently. So, we just simplify what *we think* we hear.
Anyway, whatever country animals live in, they can understand human language very well--they simply learn the basics, like children do. Besides, they identify meaning of our words by intonation and other non-verbal signs.
Thanx for the article. I was wondering recently, how cats speak in Finnish ^^

10:11AM PDT on Jun 21, 2013

No it should be "Miao" in Chinese.

12:37PM PST on Nov 28, 2012

Miau in Germany - although my cats also say things like mrrrrip, brrrip, mau, maaaaauuuuu, wä...

8:50AM PDT on Oct 2, 2012

I wonder if animals have accents and dialects

1:04PM PDT on Aug 28, 2012

thanks

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