Neanderthal language

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Walter L. Wagner, May 1, 2011.

  1. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    A recent article came out suggesting Neandertals of 500,000 years ago spoke a language, but did not have the full articulation capabilities of homo sapiens which arose 200,000 years ago.

    This suggests that language as a 'tool' has evolved along with evolving language articulation capabilities, and that it is now merely a 'tool' adopted by people in the recent past who just happened to have the articulation capabilities (similar to parrots, which have articulation capabilities for language).

    "Given the new tooth evidence, populations of largely right-handed Neandertals and their predecessors must have possessed a gift for gab, Frayer’s team proposes in a paper published online April 14 in Laterality."
    Last edited: May 1, 2011
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I've been hearing for several years of new research indicating that the Neanderthal brain had a speech center, but since soft tissue doesn't fossilize well I wondered how sure they could be. When Jean Auel wrote the first book in her Earth's Children series, Clan of the Cave Bear, anthropologists insisted that Neanderthals could not speak, so the Neanderthals in her novels communicate with a sophisticated sign language.

    Babies don't have full articulation. The human head is enormously disproportionate to the rest of the body, compared to all other mammals. Even though our pelvis is so wide that entire muscles have been rerouted to allow us to walk with such a wide stance, in order to fit through the birth canal a baby's head is very undeveloped, including both the brain and the speech organs. This is why the only consonant babies can pronounce is the M in "mama."

    We'll never know whether Neanderthals actually developed spoken language. It would hardly be the first time that an ability lay dormant. Cats, for example, are expert swimmers; they just don't want to. (Watch the old movie "Milo and Otis" to see a cat swimming enthusiastically.)

    As of right now, the only time when we can say with certainty that language was in existence is 13,000BCE. That's when a group of Siberian adventurers walked across Beringia to found the human colonies in the New World. The Na-Dene languages of the Navajo, Apache, Tlingit, etc. have been discovered to be related to the Yenisei language of Siberia, forming Dene-Yeniseian, the oldest known language family.

    It's worth noting that H. neanderthalensis was not the parent species of H. sapiens. They both descended from a common ancestor whose identity has not been determined to universal accord, perhaps H. erectus. Modern humans didn't interact with Neanderthals until their migration into Europe ca. 30KYA. So there's no convincing reason to assume that we got it from them.

    BTW, when German spelling was reformed in the late 19th century, the name of the Neander Valley was normalized from Neanderthal to Neandertal. But the name of the hominid species Homo neanderthalensis and its vernacular form "Neanderthal Man" were beyond the control of the Germans, and they were not changed. Besides, anglophones incorrectly pronounce "Neanderthal" with an English TH sound and we're not about to give that up for linguistic accuracy.
    Last edited: May 2, 2011
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  5. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    I don't believe the authors are claiming proof of, but rather evidence of.

    I suppose that is correct, the only real proof of language ability is the dating of that Na-Dene language split to old-world/new world tribes.

    I was not suggesting homo-sapiens evolved from neanderthals. You are correct, they have a common ancestor of about 500,000 years ago when they split, giving rise to new 'species'. Apparently, they were sufficiently alike that some neandertal genes are present in some Europeans evidencing some inter-breeding, as shown in other threads, and which raises into question the dating of Yc-Adam or M-Eve if true.
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  7. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Not really, The interbreeding happened before and after both Yc-Adam or M-Eve, lived.

    It just was very rare. Probably some "Squeeel like a saber tooth gurrl", kinda thing....
  8. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Do you have any citations for the before Yc-Adam and M-Eve interbreeding? I was under the impression it was all after; i.e. around the time of the Cro-Magnon tribes of Europe circa 40,000 to 30,000 years ago. If after, and there was a female Neandertal contributing a daughter, who had continuing lineage of daughters, then M-Eve would have to at least date back to the Neanderthals, since the inter-breeding with Neanderthals was not with all human lineages, only the cro-magnon lineage.
  9. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Na I've read that too, just use some logic (which apparently anthropologists refuse to do and leave it up to people like J Auel.)

    They basically can pine it back to 30-40KYA...well sure, that's when Neanderthals started to DISAPPEAR!

    So, current African origin populations have no Nea DNA. Ok sure, they are 30-40KYA never touching the Caucasus in their ancestry.

    Then it's everyone else. From (I assume) Aussie Aborigines to Natives in the Americas. That's going back to the origins of migration of Homo-sapiens....not just the last pump out of Africa. The two co-habituated far longer than 30-40 KYA. They didn't suddenly decide to start fucking each other out of the blue.

    Also I've read some stuff that we mixed with more than just Neanderthals. We are as slutty as any animal out there, maybe worse.

    Edit: so I read your post some more. No everyone but African(only) lineage has some Neanderthal dna (1-4%). Yc-Adam or M-Eve are simply BOTH EVERYONE's common ancestors(including modern african only lineage), ergo - They did not have neanderthal DNA, they probably both lived somewhere in Africa in their lifetime. To clarify MY POINT - Humans and Neanderthals might have been fucking in the middle east, while these two common ancestor's lived.
    Last edited: May 3, 2011
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    What little I've read on the subject says that there's no Neanderthal DNA in our mitochondria. This means that, contrary to your scenario, sapiens females bred with neanderthalensis males, but not vice versa.
    That makes sense. The Neanderthals did not live in Africa.
    Huh? What other species was there? Floresiensis, on their tiny island? I don't find any indication that we've got any DNA to test, so it's still not agreed that they are indeed a separate species. If there was any crossbreeding it probably would have only affected the island population.
  11. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    H. floresiensis and H. neandethalensis were almost certainly not the only Homo 'species' contemporary with H. sapiens (humans, our common ancestor). We just don't have the evidence for their contemporaneous existence (or, at least, not that I am aware of). Even as one or more contemporary species are on the decline (and leaving few fossil traces, which are more difficult to find than the more abundant species), the other dominant species might still have some interbreeding, until eventually the other species completely dies off. That is where the assumptions of mitochondrial mutation rate comes into play. While we can definitively trace M-Eve to a certain woman, we really don't know factually when she lived, because the dating is based on assumptions of constant mutation rate, etc., which is only a rough dating method.

    Back in the day, if 'someone' who looked somewhat human was not part of your tribe, he/she was literally 'fair game', and treated as any other animal, i.e. game/food. Thus, interbreeding was probably quite infrequent even if the other tribe looked quite similar to your tribe.
    Last edited: May 3, 2011
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Well then how can you be so sure that they existed? I'm confused.
    Based upon studies of the few remaining paleolithic communities in the last couple of centuries, anthropologists tell us that during the summer food surplus, tribes within traveling distance of each other almost certainly put on a festival to which all were invited. This allowed them to share each other's new technologies--everything from knots to brewing, and anything that resulted in more productive hunting would have reduced the pressure of competition and benefited everyone.

    But perhaps most importantly it was an opportunity for intertribal dating and DNA swapping. Humans are, after all, virtually unique among the primates because of our incest taboo. We are actually charmed by the look of an outsider. Follow-up studies on the Israeli kibbutzes in which all children are raised communally except on weekends yielded the startling revelation that even though they were not blood relatives they rarely grow up to marry each other. We really don't like doing it with our tribe-mates! Remember that the slaveowners in the Old South had no qualms at all about procreating with their "posessions."

    I think the assertion that we have an aversion to people who look different from us is not accurate, and in fact the opposite is true--at least for our males, who are usually the sexual aggressors. (How many of you reading this are nodding your heads in agreement as a vision of some "exotic" movie star pops up unbidden?)

    It's been pointed out that if a Neanderthal walked into the subway station in any of our large cities no one would give him a second glance; he would be one of the most unusual-looking people there, but not necessarily the most unusual. The high incidence of Neanderthal DNA in our genes indicates that our ancestors must not have been too terribly reluctant to mate with them--ironically sapiens women with Neanderthal men. Or perhaps due to the mysteries of genetics the opposite pairings were not fertile as in some psittacine groups, or yielded infertile offspring as in the equids. Do we even have a good roadmap of Neanderthal DNA? Perhaps we have a different number of chromosomes like horses and donkeys.

    The Smithsonian Hall of Human Origins goes into this issue obliquely without having a specific exhibit for it. The exhibits make it clear that the materials found in artifacts made tens of thousands of years ago prove that our distant ancestors had trading relationships with tribes from so far away that a trading network must have existed. This is evidence of far more peaceful, cooperative relationships among them than they have been given credit for.
  13. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    I left out the word 'certainly' which I have edited in my prior post. Does that clear up the confusion?

    While it is true that Neanderthals would have looked a lot like sapiens (but were they white? almost certainly not; just as most sapiens are not white; it's odd how the contemporary renditions of Neanderthals have them as burly whites), the other contemporary Homo species might not have looked quite as much as sapiens as did the Neanderthals. Short 'hobbits' would have been fair game, as would have other Homo species with much smaller skulls, etc.

    It was not until the later era of sapiens that you are speaking of different tribes co-mingling; those tribes were already fully H. sapiens. In earlier eras, the different Homo 'tribes' were technically different species, even if they occasionally could produce non-sterile offspring. They simply interbred sufficiently infrequently with H. sapiens that they died out as they were out-competed (and likely hunted down as fair game) in the similar environmental niches they occupied.
  14. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Nope that is exactly my scenario. I'm being nice and calling the ladies - rape victims, but they were probably sluts or maybe some Neandertals made fancier polished stones?
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Maybe they were attracted to their more robust build, just as today many women are more attracted to physique than attributes that are better predictors of success in the Post-Industrial Era. I'm not terribly impressed with the scholarship that went into that article. The diaspora out of Africa has been dated with much more precision than "around 100,000 years ago," and in fact two different waves of migration have been identified. The first occurred around 60KYA, during a famine caused by an ice age drought, and those people kept going until they hit Australia. The ancestors of all the rest of us left ten thousand years later. We even know that both populations were founded by adventurous members of the same tribe, the San or "Bushmen."

    Any other Homo species that may have existed 100KYA apparently died out by 60KYA, except floresiensis, which has not yet been officially certified as a species rather than a subspecies, or simply a distinct population.
  16. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    ??? Except Neanderthals, for which there are fossils dating to a mere 30,000 years ago or sooner. But I believe you know this.

    Elsewhere, it has been conjectured that Neanderthals existed in the New World until the 1900s AD, albeit in very small pockets with no fossil evidence, based on the writings of Percy Fawcett, who described one primitive group he encountered, which description fits neanderthals and not sapiens. There have been earlier threads about this at sciforums.
  17. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Here's from Percy Fawcett's diary:

    "As we stood looking from right to left, trying to decide which direction was the more promising, two savages appeared about a hundred yards to the south, moving at a trot and talking rapidly. On catching sight of us they stopped dead and hurriedly fixed arrows to their bows, while I shouted to them in the Maxubi tongue. We could not see them clearly for the shadows dappling their bodies, but it seemed to me they were large, hairy men, with exceptionally long arms, and with foreheads sloping back from pronounced eye ridges, men of a very primitive kind, in fact, and stark naked. Suddenly they turned and made off into the undergrowth, and we, knowing it was useless to follow, started up the north leg of the trail.

    "It was not long before sundown, when, dim and muffled through the trees, came the unmistakable sound of a horn. We halted and listened intently. Again we heard the horn call, answered from other directions till several horns were braying at once. In the subdued light of evening, beneath the high vault of branches in this forest untrodden by civilized man, the sound was as eerie as the opening notes of some fantastic opera. We knew the savages made it, and that those savages were now on our trail. Soon we could hear shouts and jabbering to the accompaniment of the rough horn calls--a barbarous, merciless din, in marked contrast to the stealth of the ordinary savage. Darkness, still distant above the treetops, was settling rapidly down here in the depths of the wood, so we looked about us for a camping site which offered some measure of safety from attack, and finally took refuge in a tacuara thicket. Here the naked savages would not dare to follow because of the wicked, inch-long thorns. As we slung our hammocks inside the natural stockade we could hear the savages jabbering excitedly all around, but not daring to enter. Then, as the last light went, they left us, and we heard no more of them.

    "Next morning there were no savages in our vicinity, and we met with none when, after following another well-defined trail, we came to a clearing where there was a plantation of mandioca and papaws. Brilliantly colored toucans croaked in the palms as they picked at the fruit, and as no danger threatened we helped ourselves freely. We camped here, and at dusk held a concert in our hammocks, Costin with a harmonica, Manley with a comb, and myself with a flageolet. Perhaps it was foolish of us to advertise our presence in this way; but we were not molested, and no savage appeared.

    "In the morning we went on, and within a quarter of a mile came to a sort of palm-leaf sentry-box, then another. Then all of a sudden we reached open forest. The undergrowth fell away, disclosing between the tree boles a village of primitive shelters, where squatted some of the most villainous savages I have ever seen. Some were engaged in making arrows, others just idled--great apelike brutes who looked as if they had scarcely evolved beyond the level of beasts.

    "I whistled, and an enormous creature, hairy as a dog, leapt to his feet in the nearest shelter, fitted an arrow to his bow in a flash, and came up dancing from one leg to the other till he was only four yards away. Emitting grunts that sounded like 'Eugh! Eugh! Eugh!' he remained there dancing, and suddenly the whole forest around us was alive with these hideous ape-men, all grunting 'Eugh! Eugh! Eugh!' and dancing from leg to leg in the same way as they strung arrows to their bows. It looked like a very delicate situation for us, and I wondered if it was the end. I made friendly overtures in Maxubi, but they paid no attention. It was as though human speech were beyond their powers of comprehension.

    "The creature in front of me ceased his dance, stood for a moment perfectly still, and then drew his bowstring back till it was level with his ear, at the same time raising the barbed point of the six-foot arrow to the height of my chest. I looked straight into the pig-like eyes half hidden under the overhanging brows, and knew that he was not going to loose that arrow yet. As deliberately as he had raised it, he now lowered the bow, and commenced once more the slow dance, and the 'Eugh! Eugh! Eugh!'

    "A second time he raised the arrow at me and drew the bow back, and again I knew he would not shoot. It was just as the Maxubis told me it would be. Again he lowered the bow and continued his dance. Then for the third time he halted and began to bring up the arrow's point. I knew he meant business this time, and drew out a Mauser pistol I had on my hip. It was a big, clumsy thing, of a caliber unsuitable to forest use, but I had brought it because by clipping the wooden holster to the pistol-butt it became a carbine, and was lighter to carry than a true rifle. It used .38 black powder shells, which made a din out of all proportion to their size. I never raised it; I just pulled the trigger and banged it off into the ground at the ape-man's feet.

    "The effect was instantaneous. A look of complete amazement came into the hideous face, and the little eyes opened wide. He dropped his bow and arrow and sprang away as quickly as a cat to vanish behind a tree. Then the arrows began to fly. We shot off a few rounds into the branches, hoping the noise would scare the savages into a more receptive frame of mind, but they seemed in no way disposed to accept us, and before anyone was hurt we gave it up as hopeless and retreated down the trail till the camp was out of sight. We were not followed, but the clamor in the village continued for a long time as we struck off northwards, and we fancied we still heard the 'Eugh! Eugh! Eugh!' of the enraged braves."

    This can be found here, with more detailed explanation:

    It is conjectured that he encountered Neanderthaloids, and that they might still be living there today!
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Of course. I mistakenly assumed that it would be obvious from context that by "other" I meant "other than sapiens and neanderthalensis," since we'd already covered hybridization of those two species. It's been well known for a while that the two species lived in Europe contemporaneously, when ours first arrived and the other was nearing extinction.
    The absence of fossil evidence is difficult to explain, since it seems like we dig up new sapiens fossils every year. In fact "fossil" is generally reserved for remains more than ten thousand years old, so many of these are simply "bodies."

    The New World was (and still is) a cornucopia of food and the fiercest predator south of the polar bears' Arctic habitat was (and still is) the cougar, which mercifully does not hunt in packs. It took one adventurous band of Siberians only one millennium to populate the entire hemisphere. It's hard to understand why a hypothetical band of adventurous Neanderthals would not have had the same welcome and the same success.

    We keep being told that in appearance, the Neanderthal and sapiens genotypes greatly overlap. The abominable snowmen that Fawcett's team claims to have encountered could just as easily have been a band of Indians that had regressed many generations earlier, due to conditions we can't imagine including perhaps a mutation that rendered them speechless. The still barely-exploited resource-rich Paleolithic northern region of the New World which had provided the Siberians with an unimaginably easy life could also have allowed these hapless waifs to merely survive.
  19. orcot Valued Senior Member

    Maybe humans brought with them a couple of diseases
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Linguistics note:

    It's better to use the term modern humans when referring specifically to Homo sapiens. "Human" is often used vaguely for:
    • The most recent ancestral species such as H. erectus
    • All species of the recent genus Australopithecus and the only living genus Homo, which therefore includes the Neanderthals
    • All species in the taxonomic group Hominina (midway between a family and a genus), which includes Paranthropus, Ardipithecus and a couple of other genera in addition to Homo and Australopithecus--the final branch that separates us from the chimpanzees, characterized by the transition to bipedal walking.
  21. wellwisher Banned Banned

    Spoken language is more important to community animals than to solo animals. Language helps communication between animals, but it is not needed to carry out solo activity.

    For example, say I was looking for my native food item. It does not matter what it is called. I could use any of a hundred languages, since the sound attachment is purely subjective. I could even make up my own pet sound only my clique knows.

    On the other hand, the sensory characteristics of that food item, or the way its sensory data inputs and is processed within my brain is objective. In other words, there are hundreds of language sounds used to label the animals call the dog. But actual sensory input from that dog is the same for all, independent of the subjective sound of any language. All languages will see the same sensory thing, even if there are a hundred different people using a hundred different sounds for the dog.

    Language is not needed to process the sensory data directly since that input is independent of the subjective sound. Language becomes important if I need to transfer this collective visual input, to another person who is not in the physical location to directly get the real input data.

    For example, the food is over there, out of sight, so it does not exist for direct sensory input independent of subjective sound. I will need to create a surrogate sensory input, with audio or body language. This will create sensory expectation in the other person's mind so they will walk over there, allowing the objective sensory input to enter the brain.

    The less independent one is, the more there is need for language. This allows others to direct you to the collective sensory input. It is a question of whether the Neandathals were a highly dependent species or able to act independently.

    For example, say you had 12 Navy Seals walking at night to free a hostage. Each is highly independent. They have little need to talk along the way. If they were a bunch of amateurs, they may have to constantly talk to help surrogate the brain so they go the right way. If the Neandathals were more like Navy Seals, there is less need since they will sensory process what each other is doing. If they were more like a bunch of dumb blonds, they may need to yack it up, so they all don't get lost since they will miss subtle sensory cues from the environment.

    An interesting experiment would be to go to say the UN where there are many languages. We will bring random objects and have each person label it with their native language. If we could go into their brain and see the direct sensory input, all that subjectivity of sounds is what separates them. The direct input would unite them in a common way. Random sound generation could split the group since subjectivity would disrupt what they have in common.
    Last edited: May 5, 2011
  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Pack-social animals develop ways of communicating with each other, usually body language but in some cases vocalizations. Jane Goodall (or was it one of the other gorilla scientists?) discovered accidentally that slapping a female gorilla lightly on the butt means, "You are invading my space, could you please move over?" She was relieved to learn that despite her diminutive stature the female considered her an alpha and actually got up and moved.

    Even herd-social animals do it to a limited extent, "Excuse me, but you're standing on my foot." But solitary animals have no need for communication so they seldom evolve it, except in the unique context of courtship rituals, which can be exquisitely complicated. Also between a mother and her young. Many solitary animals, once they reach adulthood, don't even cry out in pain, because there's nobody to care.
  23. universaldistress Extravagantly Introverted ... Valued Senior Member

    Once a workable Neanderthal genome is running in simulation; Or even a sooner complete set of chromosomes is engineered for cloning; then we will find out their capabilities.

    One of the main issues is a, how gradual was the acquisition of the abililty to talk in homo sapiens? b, how gradual was the acquisition of the ability to talk in neanderthals? There are many grey areas and degrees of linguistic ability possible in this. Which period are we looking at? It would seem plausible to me that neanderthals would have been at their linguistic high-point just before extinction/absorption? But it would also seem sensible to think their prowess would have been much less than homo sapiens, and in fact their linguistic evolution must have been held up by some physiological variable otherwise they would have flourished well before homo sapiens could take hold? (so a much slower evolution of language due to? (mental ability?)).

    It does kind of lead me to the assumption that neanderthal articulation was vastly inferior if not non-existent.

    I have read Auel's books. And I felt the sign-language take to be a believeable one.

    Think a lot more data would be needed to support a definite conclusion here. There will never be a consensus until they walk the earth again. And even then some people would say nurture would be impossible to recreate.

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