Friday, 27 March 2009

The Sad Truth about Feline Grammar

Sir Edward Gobswain, professor of Zoological Linguistics at Oxford University, has just published a damning new report in Animal Language. The paper, based on extensive studies in the past few years, outlines a dramatic drop in the quality of feline grammar, both written and spoken. Sir Edward concludes that this could lead to tragic consequences for all animal language in the future.

Gobswain’s paper, The Sad Truth about Feline Grammar, begins with a history of cat language, and the developments noted in this essential field. Carroll’s 1865 paper on the Cheshire breed of Cat showed a feline creature with a remarkable linguistic ability, while Lloyd-Webber (1981) noted the ability of various cats to sing, as well as talk, with great grammatical ability. Sadly, somewhere down the line, this ability seems to have abandoned the domestic feline.

The decline in linguistic excellence seems to have started around 2005. This is the point when, Gobswain notes, “a terrible disease began to affect cats everywhere, and their ability to vocalise internal feelings became stunted and infantile.”

Whereas the cat mentioned by Carroll in the 19th Century was able to engage in philosophical debate, nowadays cats seem to have trouble formulating simple sentences. Verb tensing, question phrasing and verb/pronoun agreement are now almost alien to the feline race. Phrases such as “…can has…” and “I is…” are now the rule rather than the exception. When asking questions, many cats will now utter a statement with a rising intonation instead of a properly-phrased question statement. And in written English, cats now seem completely unable to spell even the simplest words, like ‘is,’ ‘your’ and ‘itty bitty kitty committee’.

This is all depressing stuff, and Sir Edward warns that this linguistic failure may even be crossing over into the rest of the animal kingdom. Dogs, mice, owls and even walruses have shown signs of this grammatical disease.

As for explanations of this worrisome trend, Professor Gobswain can only theorise. His most fruitful line of inquiry shows a correlation between the deterioration of cats’ language and their diet. In the past few years many cats have moved away from the more traditional feline foods to junk food, such as cheeseburgers. The levels of nutrients in a cheeseburger are not enough for a growing kitten, and so it could be that cats’ collective brain power is falling as their diet gets worse. More studies are certainly needed, though, as the changes in both diet and linguistic capabilities could be symptoms of a greater underlying cause. It’s a long-shot but maybe, Gobswain hypothesises, Basement Cat is somehow responsible.

Whatever is to blame for this terrible blight on zoological communication, Gobswain concludes that things will get worse before they get better. Many pet owners are reluctant to correct their cats’ linguistic failures, and some even encourage them, believing them to be ‘cute’. Sir Edward warns that “giving your cat a cheeseburger when he says ‘I can haz cheezburger?’ will not wean them off this behaviour. On the contrary, it will reinforce it. Like children, we must reward good behaviour and punish the bad. I recommend pet owners withhold all burger products from their cats until the animals can ask for the food correctly. Doing otherwise would constitute what I refer to as ‘pet ownership FAIL’”.

To conclude the review, this is a worrying report of a trend that looks unlikely to improve soon. With more publicity, however, we might be able to roll back some of the damage through education and more public spending in feline literacy education. Sir Edward is to be commended for his fine work and dedicated study.

The Imaginary Reviewer is in your noun, verbing your related noun.


Red said...

The worst part is this epidemic seems to be spreading to humans as well. Something must be done. kthxbai.

Soda and Candy said...

Oh hai!

I knew this post was going to be gold when I saw the title in my sidebar.

Gwen said...

I love when you tackle the big issues, IR. I've always blamed Ceiling Cat and his voyeuristic tendencies.

As a global community we should also be worried about the mighty walrus who was once the inspiration for phrases like "koo koo kajoob" but in recent years has been diminished to compulsive bukkit lovers.

katrocket said...


Ok, this is now a Top 5 fave Imaginary Review for me. You win my Cunning Linguist Award today!

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Red: Oh noes!

S&C: It's true, Sir Edward's papers are always of the highest quality.

Gwen: Yes, it's true. That walrus certainly has fallen on hard times these days. But who hasn't been affected by the economy?

Kat: Many thanks! I've always wanted to be a cunning linguist!

Anonymous said...

My cat refuses to speak at all times. Except at dinner time where he can say "MY FOOD, IN FRONT OF ME, NOW, BITCH" in seventeen different languages.

Also, Edward Gobswain? Totally my grandfather. No, wait. That was Edward GobSHITE. Sorry!

BeckEye said...

Y r u bein soooo mean to kats?....dis is defamerment...~if u dont stop, im gonna call a lawler to sew u!!!1

FMIR said...

I iz in ur language, messin' wit ur grammar.

Falwless said...

You are supremely ridiculous, in the most awesomest way imaginable.

Tabitha said...
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Tabitha said...
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Tabitha said...

It's an utter disgrace. I find it hard to interact with other felines. I used to think it was because they were afraid of my weird face. I would also be met with odd greetings by workmen and school children. They'd hold out a scrap of food and try to make me say, "I iz a weeerdo, giz meh food or I getz annoyed. Do eeeet!" Their response was typically, "ROFL!LOL!WTF!!!!!!HAHAHA!" and then they walked off, not even remembering to give me the food.

At open mic poetry evenings I was be heckled the moment I appeared on stage and no one would be happy until I stood on my hind legs and said, "Miaow, I iz a kitteh."

Then I found some 'LOLCATS!!!!!!!!!!' type website. It all became clear. I vomitted straight away, such was my disgrace.

Thank you for bringing this matter to your readers' attention.

Jillian said...

Have you seen this one?

Kills me.
Thanks for the hilarious review :).