Re: Neanderthal "voice boxes"?

Michael McBroom (
Thu, 23 Jan 1997 01:30:21 -0800

MSCob wrote:

> John Halloran also wrote:
> This is true. Would you accept, however, the assertion that with just one
> vowel phoneme, vowels lacked semantic significance in the earliest version
> of this particular proto-language?

> Yes. I agree that a language with only one vowel phoneme depends
> entirely on consonant differences (and intonation) to distinguish meaning
> at the level of phonology. The vowel sounds would only function to
> separate the consonants and make them more recognizable.

Please don't forget about suprasegmentals. We can establish minimal
pairs using nothing but gemination or tones to differentiate them. I'm
sure you remember the famous "ma" example in Chinese?

Absent suprasegmentals, what you've written is perfectly valid. But I
believe it would be an oversimplification to attempt to analyze any
one-verb-morpheme language without considering the effect of
suprasegmentals on meaning.

> Consonants seem
> to have been awfully prominent in Proto-Indo-European, compared to many
> language families today where single consonants, rather than clusters, are
> the rule. If language evolved only quite recently, this certainly might
> provide clues to earlier stages of its evolution.

An extremely remote possibility IMHO, but I'm curious about the clues.
What would they point to?

> John also wrote:
> In his book on language evolution and in the two articles to which I
> referred,
> Bernard H. Bichakjian has shown that Indo-European and its neighboring
> language families have evolved to be more efficient tools for
> communication
> over the last 6,000 years.
> You should read and respond to his articles before making statements such
> as
> the one above.
> I will do so.

Keep your salt shaker handy.

> The 2000 BC date is associated with the hypothesis that PIE was
> spread by a small conquering elite who took advantage of expertise in
> breakthroughs in weaponry (mainly the wheeled, horse-drawn chariot). In

Ah yes. I liked this one too. Some years back an alternative agrarian
model was put forth. My apologies, I don't recall the linguist who
first suggested this, although I think I still have a photocopy of the
article around here somewhere. Are you familiar with this theory? That
the cradle for the IE languages was not the Russian steppes but more
likely Asia Minor? The argument was most compelling, but I haven't read
on the subject pro or con in any great depth.


Michael McBroom
CSUF Linguistics