Re: Speech in H. erectus

Jacques Guy (
16 Jul 1995 10:45:45 +1000 (Brad Woodcock) writes:

>That would be a drop from 8 or 9
>vowel sounds to a mere 5, but there are active languages that commonly use
>less than 6 standard vowel sounds (with intonation, glottal stops, and
>placement within the word substituting in some cases).

Most Australian aboriginal languages have three vowels, without any
suprasegmental features (intonation, etc).

At any rate, in languages with enough consonants, vowels are mostly
redundant. Try saying something in English with every vowel replaced
by, say, "uh", and see. It will hardly impair communication.

Even if we assume a language with one single vowel, of random realization,
we need only posit contrast between short and long vowels, high-pitched
and low-pitched: bingo! four distinct vocalic realizations out of one
indistinct vowel.