Re: Speech in H. erectus

J. Moore (
Sat, 22 Jul 95 12:22:00 -0500

Another of those "disappeared" posts:

He> I just finished browsing Tattersall, the Fossil Trail. He makes some
He> very good arguments about the probable lack of speech in early H.
He> erectus. In particular, he points out three features in the KNMER-15000
He> skeleton that suggest the Turkana Boy lacked language:
He> 1. The evidence of the small diameter spinal column that his chest
He> lacked the detailed motor control that we have,
He> 2. The flat base of the skull indicating that there was insufficient
He> room for a laryngial tract that could support complex language, and 3.
He> The conical chest shape (similar to that of Lucy and better adapted to
He> climbing than our enlarged chest) that indicates he lacked chest volume.
He> Harry Erwin

This gets right back to the subject I've mentioned several times
before: the false dichotomy or confusion of logical types inherent
in assuming that "lack of complex language" means "lack of speech or
language". Even assuming that the above points show a lack of an
ability to create complex sounds, that does not mean that language
of some sort was not possible, especially when you consider that
early hominid language, whenever it did develop, almost certainly
was supplemented by non-verbal sounds, expressions, and gestures,
just as it normally is in humans today (whenever possible).

Now I would not be in the least surprised to find that, if
language at some level was used by early *Homo erectus* (or
possibly earlier hominids), it would've been uncomplex by our
standards. In fact, I would be rather surprised to find that
even much later hominids, even say, early *Homo sapiens sapiens*,
used a language which was "complex" when compared to ours.
Yet those H.s.s, and quite possibly earlier types, *probably
could've* used our language, at least in some fashion. The
statements on this subject seem to revolve around whether or not
they could make all the sounds that make up our languages.
This is interesting, but it doesn't answer the question they
claim to be answering.

That's where the confusion of logical types comes in. The
question they usually ask or claim to be answering is "Did they
have language?", but the question they actually *do* ask is "Could
they speak *our* language?" Answering the second question,
however accurately, does not answer the first.

Jim Moore (

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