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Science

Computers Emulate Neanderthal Speech 220

Posted by Zonk
from the borrow-a-cup-of-evolution dept.
Clarence writes "After some 30,000 years of silence, the Neanderthal race is once again speaking thanks to some advanced computer simulation. A Florida Atlantic University professor is using software vocal tract reconstructions to emulate the speech of our long-dead distant relatives. 'He says the ancient human's speech lacked the "quantal vowel" sounds that underlie modern speech. Quantal vowels provide cues that help speakers with different size vocal tracts understand one another, says Robert McCarthy, who was talking at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Columbus, Ohio, on April 11. In the 1970s, linguist Phil Lieberman, of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, inferred the dimensions of the larynx of a Neanderthal based on its skull. His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.'"
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Computers Emulate Neanderthal Speech

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  • by bughunter (10093) <bughunter&earthlink,net> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:37PM (#23096764) Journal

    His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.

    I'm imagining, then, that it sounded something like "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

    [ducks]

    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:54PM (#23097046)

      I'm imagining, then, that it sounded something like "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

      [ducks]
      I was thinking more along the lines of "I'm the decider! You've done a heck of a job, Brownie." But I could be completely wrong. It might sound more like "Developers developers developers developers."
      • I thought the submitter had noticed that there are comments under the videos on YouTube
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      I'm imagining, then, that it sounded something like "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

            And it was apparently incapable of pronouncing the world nuclear as something other than nukular.
      • by Digi-John (692918)
        Speech patterns--they're funny! Bostonians are idiots because they drop the 'r'!
        Seriously, some of the smartest people I know say "nukular", it's just how some parts of the country say it. There are far better criticisms of the Pres. than how he says "nuclear".
        • by mcvos (645701)

          Speech patterns--they're funny! Bostonians are idiots because they drop the 'r'!
          Most English-speaking countries drop the 'r'. Only Americans insist on pronouncing a mangled 'r' everywhere.
          • English people tend not to be great at pronouncing rs (and they also pronounce ng as ngk, which is extremely annoyingk to me :P ), but Scots and Irish would pronounce it I'm sure.. I'm a Scot and I say nee-oo-clee-urr (but faster :P )
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Weedlekin (836313)
              "English people tend not to be great at pronouncing rs"

              Unless they come from the West Country or Lancashire, which were still parts of England the last time I looked.

              "and they also pronounce ng as ngk, which is extremely annoyingk to me"

              "English people" are people who live in England, and England has a wide variety of accents and vernacular vocabularies, so the English don't pronounce anything in a particular way.
    • No please or sweety.
    • "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."
      Bomb Iran? Sounds like a plan!
  • Just great (Score:5, Funny)

    by CSMatt (1175471) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:39PM (#23096804)
    Computers are already cryptic enough when they speak normal English. I'd rather not have to hear one say "Me get segfault. Me dump core."
    • I can think of a few customers that I have to support that may find those helpful...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DarkOx (621550)
      Well acording to the TFA, I think it would sound more like: "Mmm gut suggfutt Mmm dup cor" even that might be a bit vowl lead sylable happy for our simple spoken ancestors.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kylehase (982334)

      Computers are already cryptic enough when they speak normal English. I'd rather not have to hear one say "Unga bunga. Me get segfault. Me dump core."
      Fixed that for you. [wikipedia.org]
  • by AdamTrace (255409) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:39PM (#23096810)
    If he can take the vocal tract of a fresh cadaver, and using only that, comes up with software that says "Nice weather we're having, eh wot?" then I'll be impressed... Otherwise, how can we verify his claims?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Although I find it hard to believe that there is still discussion as to whether or not Neanderthals had speech. They existed as a discreet species for over 100,000 years and even primates having diverged millions of years before that show basic signs of verbal communication. I would be really curious to see how aspects of proto Indo-European would sound as pronounced by Neanderthals. The last fossils come from France and Spain some 35,000 years ago and it's not unrealistic to suppose that some version of
      • Le Ugh (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The last fossils come from France and Spain some 35,000 years ago and it's not unrealistic to suppose that some version of the language would have been spoken by them.

        Le Ugh? Or El Ugh?!?

        That's assuming that "Ugh" is masculine. Maybe, the Neanderthals had different genders for their nouns.

        • by Zaatxe (939368)
          The ones in France would say "le ugh" for masculine and "la ughe" for feminine. The ones in Spain would say "el ugho" for masculine and "la ugha" for feminine. And the ones in Portugal would say "o ugho" for masculine and both "a ugha" and "a ughe" for feminine.

          (DISCLAIMER: I'm fluent in Portuguese and Spanish and I've studied French for about a year.)
          • So, you've dedicated a good portion of you're life learning how to speak neanderthal, excellent, what language do I have to learn if I want to speak human?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:58PM (#23097116)
        Legitimate linguists make no claims whatever about 35,000-year-old languages. The rate of language change is such that no one can possibly know anything about a language at such a time depth. There's no reason at all to expect any connection between proto-Indo-European and something we imagine might have been spoken by Neanderthals. Yes, your notion is unrealistic--exceedingly so.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          I'm not making a claim that Neanderthals spoke PIE and yes, language changes faster than any kind of morphologic trait. The question is whether language was a spontaneous innovation that occurred multiple times around the world, or if there was one mother tongue that everything else derived from. There may be absolutely no correlation between PIE and what the Neanderthal spoke but anthropological and archaeological evidence is so murky from that time period that it would irresponsible to rule something ou
    • by Mantaar (1139339) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:07PM (#23097258) Homepage
      Dude, his research is close to a tautology anyways: "His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.'"

      Who the hell gave the grant for this research? Of course, you can sort of create an apparatus that follows the same constraints as a Neanderthal larynx would have followed, but apart from piping /dev/urandom through it, you really can't do jack with it.

      Now, we're fairly sure that concerning syntax, early human's language surely followed some sort of predicative model - that can be seen when analyzing more isolated and primitive languages (which are mostly dead by now) - especially aboriginal languages of America and Oceania/Australia. Sentences there usually are of the form "This is an Apple. This is red." - instead of "This is a red apple". Basically they were speaking in "features", chaining them together, which resulted in either isolating languages (words have no inflection and are immutable, syntactic structure gives a sentence meaning "This apple is. This red is." Chinese works this way) or agglutinating languages (like early Nahuatl, they would incorporate subjects and objects into their words: "Thisapple and Thisred".) in the end. More sophisticated stuff, like polysynthetic languages (Inuktitut) and inflectional languages (Germanic) are thought to have evolved thereafter. But of course, this is one hypothesis and there is no way of proving any of this. You can only use fairly circumstantial evidence.

      And what this guy did was in no fucking way making "Neanderthals talk". Not even close. He just explored what kind of restrictions the anatomy of a Neanderthal's speech tract would impose on their phonetics (not even phonology let alone phonotaxis), so basically, he can now say: this is what it would have sounded like, but not more. Talk about misleading summaries/headlines/articles.
      • Now, we're fairly sure that ...

        It's fine that you've said this, so long as it's understood that by "we," you do not mean "professional historical linguists," but far rather "Dan Brown-level crackpot armchair speculators."

      • Yes and no. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:18PM (#23098090) Homepage Journal
        I agree completely with most of what you say, but you CAN do certain things, though they are very limited. The range of phonemes planetwide is vast (far and away larger than can be produced in a language like English), and in principle you could collect all of those phonemes and see which ones could be reproduced by a Neanderthal. You can then categorize which sounds are correctly reproduced, which are "good enough" (comprehensible to someone with another dialect, or perhaps another native language) and which are nowhere close. The summary suggests that that phonemes associated with a certain specific class of vowels always fall into the "nowhere close" category, meaning that if those phonemes were used, regions would not be mutually intelligable by vocal communication.

        This assumes several things. It assumes phonemes were used, for example. There's an island where the native language is communicated by whistles. The language, if I recall the article correctly, is descended from Spanish. The series of whistles constitute a series of samples at regular intervals along Spanish words, so there is a 1:1 translation between the two. Whistles, of course, do not use phonemes at all and therefore such a form of communication is not subject to the intelligability of sounds. (All I need is one example to prove that there exists a real, plausible solution that violates the assumptions made. I don't need to prove that the solution actually applied to Neanderthals, so long as my attempt to falsify really is plausible.)

        If phonemes were used, then it assumes that language drifted sufficiently for a communication barrier to exist. That's more reasonable. Neanderthals didn't have that much mobility, so maintaining a unified language and accent across the entire space they occupied, over the entire time Neanderthals existed, would likely have been impossible. I can buy into the idea of there being sufficient drift to cause problems over a large enough distance, but if there is an intelligability problem and communication with nearest neighbour is absolutely essential, that drift was locked within certain parameters and (if you want to look at it in modern networking terms) could not have exceeded some limit on a per-hop basis. That might be an interesting result to have.

        It also assumes that the constraints were the same. Modern languages are heavily based on very complex grammars and therefore don't need a particularly wide range of sounds or symbols. Very early written languages directly descend from pictographic systems and require a considerably greater number of symbols and signifiers. By inference, I'm going to say that very early spoken languages would also use a much wider range of sounds and fewer rules for inferring a specific meaning for a specific sound in a specific context. If that is correct, and the parent poster seems to have vastly more knowledge on this than I do so can probably answer this, it should be much rarer for two distinct words to sound alike enough to be confusing even with different accents.

        • It kinda makes me wonder about a few things, though.

          First of all, sure, we can collect the phonemes that humans can do, and which the Neanderthals couldn't possibly pronounce, but I wonder if there are examples of the opposite. You know, phonemes which came naturally to the Neanderthals, but which modern humans have a problem with.

          Second, to which extent thing can be done differently. E.g., a cat's mouth can't do a "R" the way humans create that sound, but their larynx can purr, and that's good enough. They
          • by jd (1658)
            To take your points in turn, I don't know if Neanderthals could produce phonemes we cannot - but I would be willing to bet they could. They also produced much higher-pitched sounds, which likely means their hearing covered a larger range. (The low frequencies used by humans to hunt and track would most likely have been used by Neanderthals.) Your second point, covering doing things differently, was illustrated in my example of the whistle language in humans but your example of cats combining vocalizations w
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @08:59PM (#23099072)

        Now, we're fairly sure that concerning syntax, early human's language surely followed some sort of predicative model
        As does modern human language...

        - that can be seen when analyzing more isolated and primitive languages (which are mostly dead by now) - especially aboriginal languages of America and Oceania/Australia.
        Linguists like Sapir have made it quite clear that such aboriginal languages are just as sophisticated and expressive as any other languages of the world. They have died out because of the ebb and flow of civilizations, not because of inherent "primitiveness" of the language.

        Sentences there usually are of the form "This is an Apple. This is red." - instead of "This is a red apple".
        It sounds like you pulled that from your ass. American languages, for instance, are perfectly capable of expressing "This is a red apple" (in Lakhota [wikipedia.org], it would be "Le thaspan sha", literally "this apple red"--and before you complain about it missing the copula verb "is", please note that Russian does the same thing). In any case, it makes no sense to analyze another language by using English-language sentences without any further explanation.

        Basically they were speaking in "features", chaining them together, which resulted in either isolating languages (words have no inflection and are immutable, syntactic structure gives a sentence meaning "This apple is. This red is." Chinese works this way) or agglutinating languages (like early Nahuatl, they would incorporate subjects and objects into their words: "Thisapple and Thisred".) in the end.
        Chinese is a very prominent, in no way primitive, modern language. English itself is fairly isolating when compared to its Germanic origins--for example, it has lost case markings in preference for isolative mechanisms such as prepositions or use of word order to distinguish roles (which is why you can say "I gave him the book" and know it means "I gave the book to him" and not "I gave him to the book"). And by the way, the actual way of saying "This is an apple" in Mandarin Chinese is "Zhe shi yige pingguo", which happens to be identical with the English sentence in structure.

        Isolation and polysynthesis are simply two different ways of encoding information; they put no bounds on the expressiveness of a language, only on the form that it takes.

        More sophisticated stuff, like polysynthetic languages (Inuktitut) and inflectional languages (Germanic) are thought to have evolved thereafter.
        Polysynthetic languages are fairly rare, and actually some of the "primitive" languages you mentioned earlier were/are polysynthetic. See Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

        I really suggest you read Edward Sapir's "Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech" (available here [bartleby.com] for free). As described in that book, there is a natural tendency for languages to drift in their syntactic "philosophy" over time.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by famebait (450028)
          I wonder if there are any stack-based langages?

              push "this"
              push "apple"
              is-a
              push "red"
              has-property

          Or is that in fact just Polish in reverse?

      • by CrazyJim1 (809850)
        Of course, you can sort of create an apparatus that follows the same constraints as a Neanderthal larynx would have followed, but apart from piping /dev/urandom through it

        Yes, but is it so easy a caveman can do it?
    • by Konster (252488)
      Adam, the clear solution is to go back in time and listen to them speak.

      Think outside the box!
  • Groan. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:40PM (#23096812) Homepage Journal
    Let me guess.. the simulator immediately tried to sell people car insurance.
  • Eh! (Score:4, Funny)

    by LordKaT (619540) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:41PM (#23096830) Homepage Journal
    Anyone else find it funny that the Neanderthal sounds oddly familiar [wikipedia.org].
  • It's remarkable that they were able to get that close to the actual sound. I feel like I've gone back in time hearing that reproduction.
  • by pclminion (145572) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:45PM (#23096886)

    Who would have guessed.

    I wonder if early humans, such as Neanderthals, communicated primarily by speech or by a combination of speech and hand signals. The fact that human infants as young as 7 months (at the extreme) are capable of communication by signs, even before they are able to talk, suggests to me that language ability in humans might have evolved prior to the development of a modern vocal tract.

    I would not be surprised, if we could go back in time, to see early humans communicating primarily by signs, with vocal communication only as a backup. After all, you don't want to make noise when hunting game anyway.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      All mammals seem to have some form of intercommunication it seems though by that measure, even if it is by scent or subtle body/tail movements. Is our only difference the specificity which our language can define our environment?
      • by pclminion (145572) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:51PM (#23097002)

        All mammals seem to have some form of intercommunication it seems though by that measure, even if it is by scent or subtle body/tail movements. Is our only difference the specificity which our language can define our environment?

        I think the real difference between human communication and that of other animals is the fact that we have grammars which directly encode semantic content. An ape can be taught to sign, but the signing lacks grammar, being more a string of symbols with no clear semantic relation.

        Modern sign languages are grammatical. I think the sign languages of ancient humans were probably grammatical as well. In other words, I'm speculating that grammar might have evolved before speech did.

      • All mammals seem to have some form of intercommunication it seems though by that measure, even if it is by scent or subtle body/tail movements.
        Sure, but can they tell jokes like a duck can [bash.org]?

        -metric
    • by jrumney (197329)

      I wonder if early humans, such as Neanderthals, communicated primarily by speech or by a combination of speech and hand signals.

      The Neanderthals who infest the streets around here on a Friday night certainly use the combination. Ug Punch!

    • by bendodge (998616)
      I'm not an expert on evolution, so I was reading about Neanderthals on Wikipedia. I don't understand what isn't human about them. They even buried their dead with flowers.

      They seem to me like normal people without modern technology.
      • by pclminion (145572)

        I'm not an expert on evolution, so I was reading about Neanderthals on Wikipedia. I don't understand what isn't human about them. They even buried their dead with flowers.

        I referred to them (more than once) as "early humans" -- is that not good enough?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fireboy1919 (257783)
      Of course, he could also just be wrong.

      So the issue here is a lack of useful larnyx to produce certain vowel sounds.

      Since when is language dependent on that? It's just icing.

      Try this: Take a balloon or beach ball filled with air. Blow the air into your mouth at approximately the rate that your breathe out while talking (without breathing it in), and use your mouth to shape the air into words.

      Entirely without the aid of any voicebox - not even an inferior one - you should be able to produce understandable
      • The larynx isn't really that important for producing vowel sounds - the length of the vocal tract above the larynx (or more specifically, above the vocal folds), plus the change in shape and volume that can be made (with the tongue, movement of the jaw, and to some degree, by passing air through velum into the nasal passages) are far more significant in terms of producing a variety of vowel sounds. Not to say that phonation isn't important, but what makes distinct vowels in modern human speech is mostly ma
    • by SurturZ (54334) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:41AM (#23101272) Homepage Journal
      > I would not be surprised, if we could go back in time, to see early humans communicating primarily by signs,
      > with vocal communication only as a backup.

              .-.
              |-|
              | |
           _.-|=|-.
          / | | | |
          |       |\
          |        /
           \     /`
            |   |

  • by davidsyes (765062) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:46PM (#23096912) Homepage Journal
    Throw in a Tuvan throat singer, an Aussie with a digidiroo, and Hal, and we'll have oen halluv an ensemble going.

    (Oh, throw in Shatner with some Esperanto, too... and some Kirk-being-stunned-on-heavy break dance...)
  • Unless I'm not finding a link in the article, it seems like they only managed to simulate the letter "e [newscientist.com]". Not exactly full speech emulation (yet) and sounds a bit like Stephen Hawking. Still, kinda cool. One can only assume the next effort will include the full poetic expression: Eegah [imdb.com]
  • Caucasians (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:51PM (#23097000)
    I think that Caucasians have lots of Neanderthal genes. We are so big and bulky compared to other regions...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tie_guy_matt (176397)
      Not sure why this is marked as Troll since there was/is some debate about that. The more accepted theory today is that the first humans evolved in Africa and then migrated throughout the world. Hominids that had migrated out of Africa prior to the advent of modern humans in Africa (like Neanderthals)were replaced by early modern humans. I believe this theory is strengthened by looking at the genetic makeup of humans from all over the world.

      Another theory is that modern humans evolved separately all over the
      • Re:Caucasians (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mcvos (645701) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:16AM (#23101144)

        Another theory is that modern humans evolved separately all over the world. In that case caucasians would be evolved neanderthals.
        That's not a seriously supported theory. The common ancestor between Europeans and Africans lived long after the rise of Neanderthals. The common ancestor of Europeans and Asians lived long after that.

        (I'm aware that this issue is a bit more complicated than this; Africans are not nearly as homogenous a group as Europeans and Asians, and some Africans are more closely related to Europeans than to some other Africans, but let's not get into that detail here, okay? My point is that all modern humans are much more closely related to each other than to Neanderthals.)

        Still another theory is that early modern humans interbred with neanderthals. In that case caucasians would still have neanderthal genes to this day.
        This is a serious theory. I believe the consensus at the moment is that Neanderthals died out without passing genes on to modern Europeans, but some scientists disagree. It's certainly not impossible that it happened, but there's no evidence that I know of (which doesn't mean much, since I'm not a geneticist or paleontologist or something like that).

        None of the last two theories have been proven and the first theory is more accepted. If the first theory is correct then it is possible that since neanderthals and modern Europeans both had to live in the same climate it makes sense that their outward appearances might become similar after a while.
        Keep in mind that Neanderthals lived in that environment far longer than modern Europeans have. We only showed up here some 70,000 years ago at best, whereas Neanderthals lived here for a couple of hundred thousand years. Homo sapiens clearly lived here for long enough to develop pale skin, but not long enough to develop very significant anatomical differences compared to African branches of homo sapiens.

        Personally I think that it is likely that neanderthals have been given a bad rap and were probably more advanced than we give them credit for. Maybe if they were still around they would be able to fit in quiet nicely in our modern world? Of course we have enough trouble with racism in a world where were all human and have surprisingly little genetic differences. Imagine how history would be different if there were more than one species of advanced hominids living to this day.
        Seen the TV series Cavemen?
  • we know (Score:5, Funny)

    by Trailer Trash (60756) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:52PM (#23097016) Homepage

    His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.

    It's well-established in our cartoons and such that neanderthals often use the objective "me" rather than nominative "I", i.e. "me doug". Looks like the verb of being wasn't invented yet, either...

  • pointless science? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by deepershade (994429)
    Honestly. Neanderthal man lacked our subtlty?

    Color me shocked.
    What were they expecting? Cavemen who recited poetry?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by geekoid (135745)
      It's another remaqrkable point in how hast we gained speech.

      It really hasn't been that long, and our speech as evolved an emence amount. Obviously that's because it is advantages.

      They may have been suspecting this, but a great many times since has done research to find out something completely unexpected, a 'this is odd' moment.
    • by turing_m (1030530)
      "What were they expecting? Cavemen who recited poetry?"

      I suppose "Developers! Developers! Developers!" could be considered a primitive form of poetry.
  • Any languages being used could easily have used sounds that are not a part of most languages currently in use. I believe the key sounds differ between most western languages and many Asian languages, and then you get the more exotic sounds like click consonants [wikipedia.org].

    A more limited vocal range does not necessarily imply more limited communication abilities. If it did, dolphins might be justified in deciding that we bipeds are clearly incapable of intelligent communication.

  • linguist Phil Lieberman...concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech
    My, how cunning of him.
  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:15PM (#23097354) Journal
    I see some posts about how it's not surprising that Neanderthal speech wasn't surprising, and what did they expect, poetry?

    This research isn't about what the Neanderthals said - it's about the kinds of sounds they were able to produce with their vocal tracts (or Liberman's models of them). The lack of subtlety is the lack of the ability to produce recognizably distinct vowel sounds.
  • There doesn't seem to be a single working human speech synthesizer that doesn't sound like metal squeaking.

    I'd say first they should "emulate" human speech, then move to more difficult targets :-)
  • Where the hell is Ogg the Caveman when you need him?
  • This article is all speculation and conjecture. Besides we all know all you need to communicate is one sound. Clicking in a certain sequence will work just as well as Morris Code or Binary.
  • by xdancergirlx (872890) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:39PM (#23097678)
    Although this doesn't make the simulation any less interesting, the article is misleading:
    Neanderthals are not really "ancient humans", they are a different branch of the hominid line that probably co-existed with our ancestors.

    I suppose it is fitting for an anthropologist but I also find it a bit anthroprocentric that because the simulation suggests they did not produce the same types of sounds as humans that they somehow did not have subtleties in their language nor could they have a spoken language. It is possible they simply spoke to one another differently (maybe in Morse Code using grunts and whistles).
  • And it sounded just like chicken.
  • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:43PM (#23097742)
    "I say, unhand me you confounded, unsanitary homonid!"
  • Here are a few samples. I don't know why the researchers published them this way, but then I'm not a scientist.

    http://digg.com/odd_stuff/Boy_gets_butter_knife_stuck_in_head [digg.com]

    http://www.youtube.com/comment_servlet?all_comments&v=5i01M_JMaoE&fromurl=/watch%3Fv%3D5i01M_JMaoE%26feature%3Drelated [youtube.com]

    -b
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:58PM (#23098520)
    A few things I'd like to say. Firstly Neanderthals have suffered a lot of bad press over the years. The word itself is often used to describe "Homer Simpson" type people, i.e. stupid.

    What most people aren't aware of is that when compared by cc Neanderthal brains were, in fact, larger than those of modern humans. You and I have a mass of around 1400cc, a Neanderthal 1500cc. (a rough guess, anthropology classes were a long time ago) How much of this is extra mass is related to them having more musculature thus greater need for control, we don't really know.

    Still, they were certainly smart. As far as culture goes, Neanderthals had rudimentary technology and more importantly they had ritual. Graves show that they buried their dead with flowers and other trinkets. This suggests some concept of "remorse" or even the afterlife. These are clearly human traits, so they were obviously closer to us in thinking than other apes.

    On the main subject of Neanderthal language. Well, there's a theory that it is not, in fact, an extinct language at all. In northern Spain and southern France there's a strange "language islote" called Basque. As far as modern linguists are concerned this language exists in a little language family of its own, totally unrelated to any other in the global family. It certainly pre-dates the Indo-European languages that are prevalent in most of Europe. This raises another question is: What is the Origin of the Basques? Who knows?

    However, it may JUST be coincidence that the last (as far as archaeologists can tell) Neanderthals lived in Iberia. So is Basque is the linguistic cockroach - staying alive when all around it dies? Who knows. There is some strange evidence. Basque people have a 55% O blood group - the highest percentage in the world, which suggests some genetic differentiation from the rest of us. In a nut shell, though, we really don't have a clue.
  • They produced a model to analyze *vocalization* not speech.
    Saying that a gorilla, dog, or Neanderthal speaks implies connotes certain things.
  • by belg4mit (152620) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @08:57PM (#23099046) Homepage
    The majority of google hits for the phrase are in reference to this paper.
    Of the remaining hundred or so, most use the term in quotes without actually
    iving a definition... All I've been able to determine is that y is qunatal &
    e is not. Spectacular!
  • by SlappyBastard (961143) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:02PM (#23099584) Homepage
    Vote Republican.
  • Ugh... debelopuhs... debelopuhs... debelopuhs... ugh... chair... me throw...
  • In the 1970s, linguist Phil Lieberman, of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, inferred the dimensions of the larynx of a Neanderthal based on its skull. His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.'"

    There is the old joke that a microgram of data outweighs a megagram of speculation ; so that would make searching for a mummified Neanderthal quite high priority, so that some hard numbers can be put to the profile of the soft tissues in the Neanderthal l

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