Meownologue: Thoughts on Research and Cats

“No one can fault the outcome of your research as long as your methodology is correct” This is what my supervisor said when I was working on my PhD. And this is what I tell my own students when we discuss their research work.

Get your methodology right, regardless of the perceived seriousness of your research. Especially when you do something like cats and online language, some people wrinkle their noses because your topic of cats is not serious or scientific enough, and you are labelled ‘crazy cat person’ or you are asked about the benefit of your research. We-e-e-e-e-ell.

Yet, your research on cats and the Internet is valid and has its place, and your data and results cannot be faulted as long as your research design, methodology, sampling, data collection, and the like are solid and you know why your are doing what.

I knew that, when I started my work on language in cat-related digital spaces, I took extra care with the whole set-up of my research because I felt that I would be up against people who could not see any scientific sense in looking at how we talk about cats on the Internet. Cats on the Internet were not science (their words, not mine) and more along those lines. So I made sure to take some preemptive action in terms of showing the underlying structure and thinking of my research.

With a grain of salt, of course, because, hey, we are dealing with a fun subject after all, and science can be fun and it should be fun. And cats make the whole subject of research in linguistics so relatable and tangible. And why not look at cats online? Cats are part of our lives, the Internet is part of our lives.

Fun and having-fun-with-science-related thoughts aside, I kept the research method in mind every step of the way – knowing what I was doing and why and being aware of what I was leaving out and why. In my case, it was the descriptive and exploratory stuff I was focussing on rather than the inferential stuff, which would require me to do more or less hardcore statistics. Why that? It’s imply that I wanted to show and describe what is out there in terms of cat-related language variation, on which cat-related topics were discussed, and on how people interact with each other in the cat-related spaces.

And both types of researching, qualitative and quantitative, have their place, neither is better than the other. Words or numbers or even words and numbers. It all depends on what we want to find out and what we want to show. For me it was like ‘Look! There is a cat language out there, and these are the words that are used, these are the patterns that are used, these are the topics that are discussed, these are the images that are shared, and these are the reasons that people have mentioned for using cat language.” That means we need to explore and describe with words.

Of course, being a social dialectologist at heart, I was interested in finding out if there are sort of regional dialects online, sort of virtual social-media dependent dialects. Is the form ‘purrfect’ more frequent on, say, Instagram than on Facebook? Here is where statistics come into play, and we can do all sorts of fun things with statistics, too. And I am honest here: I am not really a numbers person and it took me a while to overcome my resistance to number crunching. But my research on cat language helped me with that. Simply because the cat words are fun.

That’s it. Da Endinz.


Edith Podhovnik

a linguist researching language #purrieties and #meowlogism-s •alumna of SwanseaUni • loves cats • writes about cats

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