One of the stranger things about the arcane-language-sorcery that makes me think that it's a generalized side effect of pareidolia and not specific to language is that it also works quite well on non-verbals. I go through the same process to interpret those, much of the time: Rather than start from set first principles and work towards a specific interpretation, I often start from the end result (i.e., my reaction) and then sift through the Venn intersection between what I know of human behavior and what I think of this specific human to figure out what, precisely, is going on.

It also works on non-human creatures that have communicative capacity. Not too long ago, Moggie was combing through YouTube for videos of adorable fuzzy-wuzzies, and came across clips of pet foxes. Foxes aren't common pets; the favorite varieties seem to be human-bred fennec foxes, and the descendants of a domestication program undertaken in Siberia about fifty years ago, which are sufficiently family-friendly that they can be sold as pets to help finance the research. One of the interesting things the researchers found is that when you breed foxes for companion-animal traits, you essentially get tiny idjit dogs, with a trilling growl-bark. They look rather like what you'd get if you managed to shrink a husky or a Samoyed down to about twenty pounds.

The fennecs are much closer to their wild cousins, looks- and behavior-wise, but the Siberian-bred domesticated foxes are still quite distinctive. This is one named Anya, chasing a doomed cockroach around her play yard:


I grew up with domesticated animals. Lots of them. We had a long list of dogs, both large and small, and at least three times as many cats as any reasonable family should ever have owned. Plus the bird, the hamsters and ferrets my sister kept, a contraband hedgehog (they're illegal to have as pets in Arizona, for Australian rabbit reasons), and, once, a pygmy goat. Now I keep rats, who are very social and have almost as much brain-space dedicated to communication as they do to nosing out food. I speak several things in the Critter language family quite well. I'm sure I 'sound' odd to the animals; a lot of things involve using a second set of feet or wiggling a tail-appendage that I don't have, but I appear to be understandable. The dogs seem to get that when I bend down to them and thop-thop my feet on the floor, I'm signing 'come play with me!', even if the surrounding humans are confused. I also prrp! back at curious cats, and I'm prone to making a rapid tktktktktk noise at the rats that they eventually figure out is supposed to be a chitter with a lisp.

Anya up there is speaking Dog with a curiously Cattish accent. Normally, a dog at play like that would be whipping its tail back and forth, whereas Anya is holding hers steady for balance, like cats do. Cats, on the other hand, don't typically poink around their toy with their nose right on top of it -- cats are hunters who have a vested interest in making sure that their food, once down, stays down, and will more typically stare unnervingly at it from a short distance away before pouncing on it and then standing on it, to make sure it doesn't wriggle free.

She reminds me of a St Bernard we once had, in fact. This particular dog was very sweet, but had four whole paws, and did not have four brain cells to run them with. Her overall level of coordination was somewhere around the Abominable Snowman who starred in a variety of Loony Tunes shorts; despite this, she spent her life taking extensive instruction from a load of very bossy felines, up to and including believing one of the more audacious cats when he acted like he was "hidden", even though his favorite "hiding" place was 1) a long-legged Shaker end table without even a dust ruffle on it, completely open from the floor up to the bottom of the drawer, which was also 2) so small that the entire back half of the (enormous Himalayan) cat would have hung out even if there had been a concealing tablecloth involved. (They also convinced her that furniture = cat home base!, such that if she were chasing one of them around the yard and he hopped up on a lawn chair, she would stop dead and stare at the -- completely visible, totally unprotected, giant-dog-eye-level -- cat like he was behind an unbreakable force field, waiting impatiently for him to jump back down so she could get at him.) She took their word for it that laser pointers were the bestest toy ever invented, and was the only dog we ever had who would careen around the house, trying to smash the little red laserbug with her big flat snowshoe feet.

Anyway, I don't know how obvious it is to other people, but domesticated foxes use a funny dialect of puppy-talk. If you figure dogs speak German and cats speak French, the Anya up there is yammering happily away in Dutch -- understandable to speakers of Dog, if they are familiar enough with the Cat accent to apply similar transformations of 'grammar' and 'pronunciation'. 

They are also slightly different than wild and semi-wild foxes. They didn't normally let you get too close, but Flagstaff was surrounded by mountainous woods and had a population of urban foxes, several of whom lived in a rocky den just north of the Skydome on the NAU campus. I used to see them all the time when I worked an overnight shift on campus and was walking home just after dawn. Their posture as they assess you from a distance is similar to the one wary dogs assume when gauging a stranger, but they hold their tails out low and give a cat-like tail flick, breaking eye contact just before trotting away with a coyote-ish gait when they decide you're neither going to attack nor feed them.

Skunks -- who were also legion on the NAU campus -- speak a very grumpy variant of Cat. They normally waddle along very close to the ground, not unlike rodents, but when they want you to go away they puff up and saunter at you sideways to make themselves look bigger, before raising their tail and threatening to spray. They make snuffly grunting sounds instead of the low wrrrrrrrr you get from pissed-off cats. The university skunks had a tendency to argue, correctly, that they were there first, and that the loud bipedal idiots should stop shouting and get the fuck off their sidewalk already. I don't know if most people don't know what that kind of critter body language means or if our freshmen were just uncommonly stupid, but quite a few new residents ended up learning the hard way that the advice people give you about getting skunk-spray off with tomato juice or vinegar is absolute bollocks.

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