Re: [PALEO,LING] ] Re: Language, gesture, etc.

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Thu, 22 Feb 1996 15:40:48 -0500

On Thu, 22 Feb 1996, Ronald Kephart wrote:

> 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.

It would be well to remember that this is an hypothesis regarding the
range of sounds they could make, and as Ron indicates below, actually a
computer output (needless to say, one must ask about how the computer was
programed. The recent discovery of a Neandertal hypoid bone at Kebara
indicates a morphology just about identical with our own. This, in and of
itself, doesn't prove what the range of sounds were to Neandertals, but
it certainly brings into question the need to remember that as an
hypothesis, the morphological weight of the hyoid favors the hypothesis
that Neanderrtals were as capable of the sprectrum of sound that we have.

Remember that interesting letter to the editor of Science that appeared
almost 10-20 years ago (I've forgotten the ref) in which the author
purposely wrote a rebuttal of the Lieberman-Crellin position without ever
using the vowel "e"?

> 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
> "words"?
> 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.

Exactly. Thanks for making the point.
Ralph Holloway