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

Iain Davidson (idavidso@METZ.UNE.EDU.AU)
Fri, 23 Feb 1996 12:30:10 +1100

>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.

Actually the statistics do not show this. If I remember rightly, and I do
not have the paper in front of me, all measurements were stitistically
significant as larger than the modern comparison group (Bedouin Arabs now
living in Israel). It is not clear how extreme size would affect sounds,
and there are no earlier hominid hyoids to compare with. I think the hyoid
proves nothing about the vocal abilities of Neandertals, however attractive
it would be to think so.

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.

Of course it is still true that vocal abilities do not make language. It
is the use that they were put to that is crucial, and for that, I believe,
we need to turn to the archaeological evidence.

>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 letter was written by John Fremlin.

>> 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
>> 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
>> [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
>> able to have as many "words" as they wanted/needed. If so, they were beyond
>> vocalization and into Language.

Well, not exactly. There is a big problem in the question of
"wanted/needed". The issue is how hominids with whatever means or
complexity of communication became self-consciously aware that
communication was what was going on. I believe, very strongly, that the
archaeological record, as a (partial) record of behaviour gives *very*
strong indications that that awareness only emerges with the use of
material symbols at about the time of the first colonisation of Australia
(and the building of a boat to get there).

Iain Davidson
Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology
University of New England
Armidale, NSW 2351
Tel +61 +67 732 441
Fax +61 +67 732 526