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Breakthrough

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(From the private journal of Dr. Ambrose Martel)

It’s happened. It’s actually happened! Yes, I did *wonder* if it might, but I never really expected it would. This could be downright revolutionary!

I came to the lab this morning, ready to conduct my usual daily tests on the subject before heading to the clinic. As I performed them, I talked to her as usual–not with any expectation of being understood, of course, but more to try to convey some basic meaning through the tone of my voice, as one does with household pets. But then I noticed the subject looking at me with a very intent gaze–quite unlike her usual look. So I did what I had done a few times before without meeting success. I pointed to myself and, slowly and distinctly, said, “Ambrose. Ambrose.”

She looked at me, her mouth working soundlessly for a moment, then said haltingly, “Am…brose.”

“Yes,” I said, elated. I tapped myself on the chest and again said, “Ambrose.”

She pointed toward me, not touching me, and repeated, more confidently, “Am-brose.”

I was curious now. Did the cat-brain actually have a sense of self-identity? One that might actually go so far as to have a name? Would it be possible for her to communicate it? I again pointed to myself and said, “Ambrose.” Then I pointed to her and made a questioning sound.

She frowned for a moment, then suddenly shifted her gaze over my shoulder, seeming to stare at something far away. I glanced behind me, but all that was there was a small window, showing a sliver of sooty pavement. After several seconds, she shifted her gaze back to me, looking at me expectantly.

I didn’t understand what this performance meant, so again I pointed to myself and said, “Ambrose.” Then I pointed to her, again making the questioning sound.

She nodded eagerly–which startled me, as I hadn’t realized she’d picked up on the meaning of that gesture. She pointed to herself, then shifted her gaze to look far over my shoulder. Suddenly, I realized that, of course, she couldn’t *say* her name in English, so she was pantomiming it!

I tried out several possibilities to myself. “Farlooker…Longlooker…Farseer…Fargazer…Longgazer…” I finally decided that I liked the sound of ‘Fargazer’ best. So I pointed to her and enunciated, “Fargazer.”

“Fargazer,” she repeated.

To reinforce this first lesson, I pointed to myself. “Ambrose.” Then I pointed to her. “Fargazer.”

She repeated my gestures. “Ambrose. Fargazer.” Then she looked at me intently, obviously waiting for more.

I thought for a few minutes, wondering what the next step should be. How quickly would she be able to grasp something more…abstract? I decided to try it. Pointing to myself again, I said, “*Name,* Ambrose.” Then I pointed to her. “*Name,* Fargazer.”

“*Nay-yum,* Ambrose,” she said, pointing at me.

I corrected her pronunciation. “Name.”

“Name,” she repeated. She drew out the vowel sound a bit, but I nodded, letting that go.

“Name, Ambrose,” she repeated. Then she pointed to herself and said, “Name, Fargazer.” I nodded again, and then waited, wondering what she’d make of this.

There followed several minutes of silence, as she obviously turned the matter over in her mind. Then she looked at me, patted the examination table on which she was sitting, and said questioningly, “Name?”

I nearly jumped up and cheered, but I knew that would frighten her–she has a cat’s reactions to loud noises and abrupt movements. Instead, I smiled broadly and said, “Table.”

“Name, table,” she said. And after that, we were off. What followed was several hours of vocabulary-building, involving everything she could think of–not just objects in the room, but clothing, parts of the body, what we ate at lunchtime, and even verbs such as ‘walk,’ ‘run,’ ‘stand,’ and ‘bend.’ I’m sure she was willing to continue for hours more, but I did have to make an appearance at the clinic, so I finally left. But I will definitely be making arrangements to be able to spend more time in the lab over the next few weeks, to continue teaching her. If we can get to the point of having actual conversations…well, being able to talk intelligibly with a cat will be simply amazing!

And I am quite sure it is the cat with which I am speaking. Her voice even sounds different than the human had sounded–quite feline, really, with drawn-out vowels and rumbling r’s. It makes me wonder–can she make true feline sounds with her human vocal cords? Is that what she had been doing when I found her in the room with the other cat–talking with it? There’s no denying that the cat is now eating and drinking normally, which it had not been doing before. Perhaps Fargazer had a hand in that.

I’ll still keep the door locked now, though. I don’t want to have her setting that other cat free, not when I’ll need it eventually. I *could* try to trap more, but it would likely be more difficult, now that summer is here.

This is going to be a very interesting time. I’m sure of it.

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3 Comments

  1. Blackberry Harvey Blackberry Harvey June 15, 2011

    I’m curious how one mimes a blackberry…

  2. Orpheus Angkarn Orpheus Angkarn June 16, 2011

    other than repeatedly punching one’s palm?

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