Re: Archaic H. sapiens???

Michael McBroom (
Thu, 16 Jan 1997 23:09:16 -0800

MSCob wrote:

> Michael McBroom wrote about the Neanderthal palate and throat:
> The morphology of the Neanderthal palate and
> basicranial area, however, indicates that his vowel and consonant
> inventory was much more limited than ours.
> Doesn't it show that his inventory was different from ours, rather
> than necessarily more limited? He could not produce the extreme point
> vowels (a, i, u), as I recall, but there are lots of sounds in modern
> languages that are not exploited as widely as they might be, which might
> have filled out the Neantherthal phonetic inventory: tones; implosive
> consonants; trills; clicks.

Good points, to be sure. I have been careful, I hope, in stating that I
_don't_ feel that a limited inventory of vocal sounds precludes full
language. For example, of the languages whose phonemic inventories have
been analyzed and charted, Hawaiian -- a modern language in every sense
of the word -- contains only 16 phonemes (by comparison, English has
around 40, I seem to recall). But Hawaiians are able to communicate
with each other without difficulty. I have long felt that even if
Neanderthal was able to produce only ONE vowel, as long as he had
sufficient separation of consonants, he celd heve mede hemself perfectle
well endersted es thes excercese demenstretes.

Apparently, however, because of the shape of the basicranium and palate,
certain consonants, like the velars [k] and [g], and perhaps fricatives
such as the "sh" sound would have been impossible. But these
limitations, even when added to the lack of the vowels [i], [a], and
[u], cannot be used as proof that language was not present. The
combination of these factors with archeological evidence, however, do
tend to paint a picture of a group that, if it did have language, it was
perhaps a more limited form than what we possess. The theory that
Neanderthal was "overrun" by a superior culture of language-weilding,
crafty, and conniving H. sapiens carries a lot more weight in this
context. There is no way to prove or disprove any of this, though.


Michael McBroom
CSUF Linguistics