I want attention!:
The meow says many different things based upon its context, but
essentially it has one basic message: "I want your immediate attention."
The meow begins as a mewing sound made by little kittens that lets their
mothers know if they need some kind of help. In wild kittens, mewing mostly
disappears as they grow into adult cats. But the domesticated cat retains some
kitten-like qualities even after adulthood is reached. One such
quality is how cats talk to their humans -- they communicate to their people
much like a kitten does to its mother.
In addition, domestic cats learn to refine their meows to express
different needs. They have soft meows, pitiful meows, expectant meows
(when the cat food can is being opened). Although cats can
develop a wide repetoire of meows, they will not be the same for all cats. A cat
will develop a particular set of meows that it uses with its human. A
different cat with a different person will use slightly different meows.
Therefore, we can't produce a recording with translations and call it
a definitive guide to cat meows. But each person can, if alert, learn to
distinguish the meaning of their own cat's (or cats') meows.
Source: Catlore, by Desmond Morris, Crown Publishers,
Inc., New York, 1987, pp. 20-22.