Re: Human Language. (long post)

John A. Halloran (
6 Jan 1997 11:21:12 -0700

In article <> Michael McBroom <> writes:

>But if
>we're really going to compare early hominids to carnivores that live and
>hunt in packs, why not hyenas or lions, since humans originated in

You are right that it would help to find a study on the extent to which wolves
range widely in comparison to the animals that you mention. Gorillas and
chimpanzees range over no more than 15 square miles, while even the most
primitive humans range over hundreds of miles.

The principal question is for what reason have other species developed a vocal
tract that permits or enhances long-distance vocalizations. This can throw
light on the evolution in the human vocal tract.

>> It is a fact that wolves have developed a vocal tract that permits
>> long-distance vocalizations. I believe this is related to their hunting
>> lifestyle, in which they are able to range widely apart but come together when
>> prey is being attacked.

>Do wolves "announce" the attack to the rest of their far-ranging pack?
>Or do they attack in relative silence? I always thought they kept
>rather silent when they got down to serious business, and that they were
>too busy snarling and snapping at each other when it was time to eat.
>Hardly the kind of "come and get it!" behavior that you seem to be

It takes more than one wolf and more than one hominid to bring down a large

>> Do you mean anything by this other than descent of the larynx?

>Thank you. Back on topic. The descent of the larynx is that which
>leads to the choking hazard I had mentioned before. They descent of the
>larynx also serves to open up the pharyngeal area, and allows the tongue
>to move downward. But the arching of the basicranial area is perhaps
>even more crucial, since it is what gives the tongue the freedom to
>produce the three vowels with the most acoustic separation ([i], [a],
>[u]) and the back consonants.
>> You know what throws cold water on Liberman's elaborate theory about the
Homo>> sapiens sapiens vocal tract developing to be able to produce more
vowels? The>> assertion by historical linguists that Proto-Indo-European only
had one vowel!>> In "The Primitive Features of a Protolanguage", Bernard H.
Bichakjian asserts>> that it had "a very limited number of vowels, presumably
only one in its first>> reconstructed phase.", namely the vowel e.

>Bichakjian's conclusions are highly controversial and have been almost
>universally rejected.

References please?

But even if we grant for the sake of argument
>that he's correct (which he isn't), we cen stell meke erselves endersted
>quete well even ef we heve enle ene vewel en er enventere ef sends. So
>what? Arabic only has three phonemic vowels. But in Arabic script,
>vowels are largely ignored altogether. Same with Hebrew. So, if one
>can ignore vowels entirely in one's writing system, which do you think
>are more important as carriers of information, vowels or consonants?
>Unfortunately, consonants don't carry very well at all over distances,
>so there goes your wolf theory.

In Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, by Robert S.P. Beekes, 1995, there
is the statement, "PIE had only two vowels: e and o." p. 137. Bichakjian
claims that the o developed as an ablauted e.

Consider the logic of Lieberman and Laitman's claims. They are saying that
the ability to produce distinctive vowels drove the descent of the larynx.
But if this was true, it can have no relation to abstract language because
when you look at an early language like PIE, the vowels are unimportant.
This does not mean that improved vowel production was not
important to nonlinguistic vocalizations, however. But you have not dealt
with the issue that descent of the larynx also aids in producing deeper,
lower-pitched vocalizations.


John Halloran