Neandertal language

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Thu, 22 Feb 1996 15:21:50 -0500


Pardon me if this is a duplicate; I think the first try went off course.

In message <> karl h
schwerin writes:

> That Neandertals could not replicate the _range_ of modern human vowel
> vocalizations does not mean they did not/could not have language. It
> just means the range of vocalizations would have been somewhat less -
> but still significantly more than macaques or pongid species.

I agree, but I'd like to carry this a bit farther, and complicate it a bit as

The real issue is not so much the RANGE of sounds that Neandertals could have
produced but rather were they "smart" enough to abstract given subranges of the
sounds they could produce into a number of psychologically discrete contrastive
units (phonemes) which could then, in turn, be combined and recombined to form

For example, Lieberman & Crelin (1971) computer-generated the range of vowels
pronounceable by a "classic" Neandertal. They could produce vowels similar to
the front vowels in the English words "bit" "bet" and "bat" and also the high
back vowel in "book." In addition, while they apparently could not produce
velar consonants like [k] and [g] they could produce labial and dental
consonants like [b] and [d] (and thus perhaps also their voiceless counterparts
[p] and [t].

Even if they could produce only these sounds, as long as they had acquired
Hockett's "duality of patterning" they were off and running. They were already
able to have as many "words" as they wanted/needed. If so, they were beyond
vocalization and into Language.

Ronald Kephart
Dept of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL USA 32224-2645
Phone: (904) 646-2580