Re: Archaic H. sapiens???

Michael McBroom (
Fri, 10 Jan 1997 20:39:50 -0500

Ralph L Holloway wrote:
> On Tue, 7 Jan 1997, Michael McBroom wrote:
> >
> > Geez, why didn't you just say so? No I haven't, but I would very much
> > like to. I'm heading back up to the campus either today or tomorrow, so
> > I thought I'd look up the above journal in our online catalog. No
> > luck. I'll have to get a copy of your article through Inter-Library
> > Loan. Unless you can direct me to a source where it might be on the
> > 'net.
> You might have trouble finding it, as the journal died in 1986. I'm out of
> reprints or I'd send you one.

I should still be able to find a copy through Inter-Library Loan. Some
library somewhere is bound to still have it on their shelves. I'll give
it a try.

> > Regarding Homo habilis, on page 353 in Pinker (1994), the author writes:
> > "Broca's area is large and prominent enough to be visible, as are the
> > supramarginal and angular gyri . . ., and these areas are larger in the
> > left hemisphere." His apparent sources for this are Stringer & Andrews
> > (1988): "Genetic and fossil evidence for the origin of modern humans.
> > _Science_, 239, 1263-1268; and Stringer (1990) "The emergence of modern
> > humans." _Scientific American_, December.
> Pinker must have been citing Tobias' 1987 JHE article, and then the
> chapter in his two volume work on habilines. Stringer and Andrews would be
> using the same references.

He doesn't mention Tobias in his bibliography, so he must be using
Stringer and Andrews for this.

> > All this has prompted me to pull out Tattersall (1995) once again, and
> > reread the sections on H. habilis to refresh my memory. I had recalled
> > that there was, and apparently still is, some controversy over just
> > which specimens really belong to this classification. ER 1470,
> > according to Tattersall, when it was assigned to H. habilis, stretched
> > the limits that had previously been defined. Then, a year later ER 1813
> > is unearthed -- morphologically similar, but with a largely complete,
> > although much smaller, cranium. Tattersall mentions that it has been
> > generally accepted to be a female of the species. I'm wondering if
> > you've had a chance to do an endocast of ER 1813, and if there is any
> > evidence of Broca's area there? Later in the book, Tattersall mentions
> > Bernard Woods reexamination of the habilines, and agrees with Woods that
> > ER 1470 belongs within H. rudolphensis, while ER 1813 should stay where
> > "she" is. Based on your previous statements, I take it you do not
> > concur with this view?
> This a is a matter of some controversy. I have great difficulty with the
> taxonomic designations, and will probably go to my grave before I ever am
> able to take them seriously. I have a lot of trouble seeing ER 1813 as
> simply the female of KNM 1470. It could be, but I see more than just size
> differences there (which are really quite extreme: 753ml to 510ml). 1813
> does not have these regions intact enough or with enough convolutional
> detail to say whether they are present or not.

Based on the photographs and drawings I have seen, I would have to
agree. ER 1470, with its long, straight face, appears much different
than its contemporaries.

> I don't know what to call 1470 either. I only note that at the moment
> it is about the oldest representation of early Homo that we have that has
> a full ebrain endocranial cast. I think it is different enough from the
> Olduvai stuff to warrant a different disignation, such as H. rudolphensis.
> But is 1813 and that real mystery 1805 the same taxon? I think not, but
> this isn't my area of expertise.

Regarding ER 1805, Tattersall (1995: 134) says: "Since [1805's]
discovery it has been interpreted as belonging to almost every species
even remotely possible, the latest analysis suggesting that its
affinities lie with Olduvai _Homo habilis_." It would appear that he
shares your misgivings. One of these days soon, I will break down and
buy Johanson's and ??? (the name of the other author escapes me) new
book, _From Lucy to Language_, partly because of the title, but also
because of the excellent photos. Tattersall does not include a drawing
of ER 1805 in his book. Hopefully, Johanson's does.

> (Incidentally, just as an aside, I am not
> "on the fringe" because i regard Neandertals as the same species as
> ourselves. This is one of those pendular reactions that sets in
> Paleoanthropology now and then, but I do have people in the discipline
> with whom I share this perception :-)).)

I understand, and my choice of words was inappropriate, due to a mental
lapse regarding taxonomic guidelines (the sub-species issue had entirely
slipped my mind).

> Finally, you asked about the involvement of Broca's area in language
> behavior after citing Walker and Shipma. I think they really oversimplify
> the MRI and PET stuff on the brain, but here is a recent reference which
> sort of address that matter you raised:
> M. Adam et al, 1996 Brain activation modulated by sentence comprehension.
> SCIENCE, 274:114-116 (Oct 4 issue). I would be interested in hearing your
> reaction as a linguist to that study which certainly heavily implicates
> Broca's and Wernickes' on the left side from fMRI.

I read through the article today. It definitely seems to counter
Walker's and Shipman's position regarding Broca's and Wernicke's areas,
doesn't it? I found the article to be most interesting, but for reasons
other than its appearing to confirm the importance of the two areas. It
also raised some questions, but these are perhaps due to my
unfamiliarity with "echo-planar functional magnetic resonance imaging."

* Do you know, is this technology able to "take a picture" of the whole
brain during the period of analysis, or does it analyze the brain a
slice at a time? Hopefully it is something like the former, or else
only a small portion of the brain is being analyzed for each of the test
sentences. It seems to me that any repetition of the test sentences
would have the effect of conditioning, in which the data would likely
become easier to interpret with each repetition.

* It also seems to be possible that once a person shifts mental gears
into an analytical type of mode that this may influence the data. This
seems to have been only partially addressed by the pseudorandomization
of sentences with rest periods and consonant strings.

* Marcel Adam Just, et al., don't mention whether or not the test
subjects are native speakers of English. A non-native speaker would
score quite differently, I'll wager, especially if the person's native
language uses a different syntactic method for assigning sentence
elements (e.g., subject, verb, object) than English (English is
word-order dependent, other languages use particles, others use
inflections, etc.).

The test raises some interesting typological questions, as well. I
would like to see studies done in other languages, to find out if the
same levels of difficulty are encountered. The 3rd, and most difficult,
sentence listed ("The reporter that the senator attacked admitted the
error.") is an example of "object-to-subject raising," a fairly complex
construction in English. In another language, however, such as Japanese
-- a language which is somewhat dependent upon word order, but much more
dependent upon sentence particles to determine syntactic elements --
this difficulty may be entirely transparent (Japanese would probably
come up with a word order string resembling "the senator-attacked
reporter error admitted"). What this test does illustrate is that for
speakers of English, the paradigmatic SVO (Subject Verb Object) word
order is easiest to comprehend. This is straying quite a ways from the
original topic, though, and belongs, more appropriately in sci.lang.

One item of speculation that does fit within the context of this
setting, however, is a typological question that occured to me as I was
reading the article: given the measured difficulty that was demonstrated
in processing the sentences used in this test, does it provide us with
any clues about what form early language(s) may have taken? I think it
may, and I think that further tests could be designed to explore this
area in much more detail.


Michael McBroom
CSUF Linguistics