Human: “How are you?” Maine Coon responds with “How are you?”

Maine Coon says "How are you?"
Maine Coon says “How are you?” The video is from the chakacoon webpages on TikTok. This is a screenshot.
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Some observers are saying that this is remarkable but I don’t think that it is. It is very cute, however. And it is an example of how cats are good observational learners. They learn from watching their human caregivers and in this instance, this intelligent Maine Coon has decided to copy the words of the woman they live with. Obviously, there is a slight accent 😎. Some people say it’s a French accent! I would say that it is a feline accent. Putting that refinement aside, it is very distinct and very nice to see. The video asks what phrase this lovely Maine Coon is going to learn next.

My interpretation of this interaction is that the Maine Coon cat is asking for food or for attention for some other reason. And therefore, the initial meowing is entirely feline in character. Then the woman responds with “How are you?”. As these two individuals have communicated often before, the Maine Coon cat copies the woman’s words as best he can. But, for me, the Maine Coon is simply meowing and asking for food. This is not a true conversation in which each individual asks each other how they are.

However, it is a true conversation in that they are vocalising at each other at a specific time of the day and he is asking for food and she is responding with friendly words and I would suggest that the Maine Coon interprets her words as “Yes” you can have food and I will go and get it. That’s if he was originally asking for food. But her response is positive which is pretty much all the Maine Coon cares about.

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Both kittens and adult cats can learn to perform a task simply by watching an experienced cat complete the task according to ER John and colleagues who wrote Observational learning and cats (1968). And in stating that, it’s hard to avoid the fact that this Maine Coon regards the woman as a cat! Cats who live together often teach one another particular behaviours or as indicated in this instance particular vocalisations.

The best examples of observational (social) learning are those that we see on the Internet of cats opening and interior, fridge or cupboard doors having watched their owner do it.

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The classic example of observational learning is when kittens learn from their mother. And the classic task to learn is how to hunt. Kittens are very good learners from their mothers or related individuals. They learn faster from their mums than they do from unrelated individuals.

Some experts think that this is not a case of observational learning but that the actions of the “demonstrator” are “a stimulus for the cat to focus attention on the problems, and that social facilitation rather than true mimicry is the underlying mechanism”. The words are those of Linda P Case in her book The Cat, Its Behaviour, Nutrition and Health.

There is an argument that this is a case of pure mimicry i.e. the cat is copying the person but I don’t believe this. Pure mimicry has no purpose other than enjoying making the sound. But this vocalisation by the Maine Coon has a purpose namely to be given food I would argue. Or there may be another purpose. It doesn’t matter but where there is purpose there is no mimicry. The vocalisation is a request and normally it is a meow but this has been modified to sound like the human question: “How are you?”.

Below are some more pages on vocalisations.

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