Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ruminations: Cats and sign language

I own a cat now for the first time in my life; always been a dog person. I've used ASL with my dogs, creating a kind of home sign that they understand. I'm pretty sure cats watch, learn, and adopt Deaf behaviors, and I'm pretty sure they either understand ASL... or could if they were interested. Am I alone?

My particular brand of feline is named Sam, short for Samantha; all black with a white star on her chest. She's a runt, and extremely tiny; I can pick her up and she can stand and even move about with my hands as a platform. At two years old, she knows if she wants something, she needs to come over and bat me with her paw–just like my friends tap me on my shoulder.

She's also an expert with eye contact, and occasionally tells me I'm stupid with her eyes. (I am. Meow.)  But if I get what she wants wrong, she'll wait a second and patiently tap me again, then try another way of communicating–just like Deaf people. She'll run over to what she wants, or break something–typical kitty methods–but she'll be trying to communicate.

She's also really good at classifiers. If she bats me, I can ask if she wants to jump into my arms, or my shoulder, or sit on my lap: two finger-legs, crouched in the kitty-style, and she'll stand up ready to move when I get to the right one. Do other cat owners have the same experience? There's this great video on youtube which you should definitely show everyone at work; I have no idea if it's faked, but:


Sam's hearing though, and you can tell. The other day a friend snitched on my little Terrible Two and I had to lecture her for an hour about meowing when my back was turned ;). I can't lipread Ailurin, which Diane Duane calls the language of cats in her excellent The Book of Night with Moon, through my brain, skull and hair: they're just not transparent enough.

Seriously, though, animals are intelligent and respond to and interact with us in ways we never expect, and this is one of the reasons we should fight to preserve all living things on this our boiling space ball.

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