Re: Neanderthal "voice boxes"?

J E Hawcroft (
Wed, 08 Jan 1997 15:04:45 +0000

Dear Dan, I agree with you about the uncertainty involved in making any
assumptions about the language abilities of neanderthals, indeed of any
hominid who is no longer with us. Most of the work on this area seems to
focus either on the artistic/symbolic abilities or shortcomings of the
neanderthals (eg Marshack, Gargett and so on) or on the anatomical
aspects, mainly the hyoid (with the articles you cited) or the
basicranium and palate (Lieberman, Laitman etc). Both these types of
studies are all well and good, but neither symbolic thought nor throat
anatomy have proven, 100% correlations with the use of speech.
Someone raised an interesting point a few threads up from here - about
Bickerton's suggestion that the neanderthal brain was bigger than ours
but less well organised, because they were using a large-vocabularied
form of pidgin without any grammar. Thus the language was unweildy and
needed a big brain just to do basic language. But the modern human had a
better organised, grammatical language so needed less brainpower to do a
lot more. This is an interesting idea, problems with it being of course
that absolute brain size isn't directly proportional to
brainpower (otherwise women wouldn't be as intelligent as men and that
would never do!).

PS Dan Barnes wrote:
- although I've heard that
> Cavalli-Sforza reckons the Basque language is the last remnant of anything
> approaching the Cro-Magon tongue.I heard it as C-S reckoned the Basques themselves were the likely
candidates for being the remnants of the original European Cro-Magnon
population, if such a thing exists. Bet they were chuffed.