Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How Complex Was Neanderthal Speech?

The challenge: Unlike pottery shards, arrowhead flints, and cave paintings, language does not leave an archaeological trace that can be uncovered by intrepid linguists bearing bullwhips.
That makes anything we say about early human speech and language very speculative. (As I've mentioned elsewhere, e.g., How did languages evolve?, it's been deemed so speculative that at one point, the Paris Linguistics Society banned discussion on the topic in the 19th century.)
And that makes what we say about Neanderthal speech doubly speculative because at least with humans, when we consider the evolution of speech for anatomically modern humans, we have living, breathing examples to look at, measure, experiment on, and observe. Everything about Neanderthals, we have to reconstruct from fossils and, now, DNA.
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