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Computers Emulate Neanderthal Speech 220

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 AdamTrace ( 255409 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:39PM (#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?
  • Caucasians (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:51PM (#23097000)
    I think that Caucasians have lots of Neanderthal genes. We are so big and bulky compared to other regions...
  • pointless science? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by deepershade ( 994429 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:54PM (#23097056)
    Honestly. Neanderthal man lacked our subtlty?

    Color me shocked.
    What were they expecting? Cavemen who recited poetry?
  • by xdancergirlx ( 872890 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:39PM (#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).
  • by fireboy1919 ( 257783 ) <rustyp AT freeshell DOT org> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:39PM (#23097692) Homepage Journal
    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 English. Considering that Neanderthals were probably speaking something much less complex than that, I doubt they'd have had any trouble.

    The modern vocal tract makes it *slightly* easier to talk, but really I think that it's really the human equivalent of plumage.
  • by SlashWombat ( 1227578 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @09:06PM (#23098580)
    Now thats funny ... since the rest of the world initially identifies a Canadian accent as a USA one!
  • Re:Obligatory joke (Score:4, Insightful)

    by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @09:29PM (#23098796)

    And how many of those people have the proverbial (and literal) keys to hundreds of "nukular" bombs? .... of ALL the people in the world, HE, MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE should know the difference.
    How does that follow?

    I've got this weird little quirk where, whenever I try to say the words "Seat Heater", it comes out as "Heat Seater". I have to really concentrate on it in order to say it properly. So, by your logic, I should never be allowed to own a car with seat heaters?

    Seriously, if you want to pick on the guy for some of his policy decisions, fine, but picking on him for the way he pronounces a word is just silly. Grow up.
  • Re:Caucasians (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tie_guy_matt ( 176397 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:56PM (#23099532)
    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 world. In that case caucasians would be evolved neanderthals.

    Still another theory is that early modern humans interbred with neanderthals. In that case caucasians would still have neanderthal genes to this day.

    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.

    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.
  • Re:Obligatory joke (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Weedlekin ( 836313 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @07:45AM (#23102266)
    "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.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard