Why won’t those Neandertals SHUT UP?!

I know, lame title. And since I don’t read articles on my own, I am once again linking us to a Hawk’s blog post because his summaries seem to be all I’m willing to skim.

However, this is a neat paradigm shift, and one I know a little about having written an arch 1 paper on this topic. It is now concluded by A LOT of people, that Neandertals DID have human-like language. Hawks even goes so far as to say “I do not see how anyone can maintain the hypothesis that Neandertals … did not have language.”

I’m willing to bet Richard Klein (long-time supporter of the silent neandertals hypothesis) will continue to argue for language being a human development, but the evidence (summarized by Hawks) seems to be against him.

My own opinion is that it seems like Neandertals had language, but I’m still unsure if we can make the jump to “human-like language” – I mean, we talk a lot. It seems difficult to identify what good evidence for human-like language would look like. And (unlike Hawks) I don’t think that having a throat capable of language, using pigment and making decorative ornaments necessarily constitutes proof they talked like we do now. That assumes a mind change that may not be present – we just don’t know. We also don’t know why they used pigment or made decorations. Hawks plans to post more on the pigment evidence, so perhaps he will sway me (I admit I have not read much on pigment usage as evidence for language). But for now, I’m surprised everyone is willing to jump so quickly from one extreme (Neandertals were dumb) to another (Neandertals talked like we do today), without even considering that maybe they had some sort of intermediate language ability.

OK, everyone I took arch 1 with, this is where you should chime in and correct me b/c I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of this stuff we talked about last semester.

Also, don’t forget to comment on Kristen’s post about summer-reading, below.

6 thoughts on “Why won’t those Neandertals SHUT UP?!

  1. I don’t feel like going back over my Arch I notes (though I’m sure I’ll see Bob in a few minutes at the museum). But I think one of the problems is figgering out what a not-just-like-modern-human language should be like. More ideas later, maybe.

  2. p.s.these are the kinds of topics that would be great for us to have a lively discussion about in a seminar that we could design for ourselves next semester…After all, we are in an “ever heard of it” program with an “ever heard of him” adviser – we should probably be taking better advantage of that.

  3. if you had only heard english your whole life, you’d be unable to fathom a non-english language. having only heard modern languages (okay, maybe some ancient ones, like Latin, etc.), but modern relative to Neandertals, we are likely (not surprisingly) unable to imagine a language not like our own. this is highly speculative, and i don’t think you can ever know for sure what type of language these individuals had. and would it be possible for them to have a language dictated through gestures associated with some sounds, instead of full out speaking? or just gestures? i think it’s important not to forget other means of communication here. for instance, you can take away alot just from the expression in someone’s eyes. and that requires no sound at all. that’s a simple example, but it’s just a thought.secondably, i like the idea of a seminar about something more than bones. we did kind of talk about a more bioculturally inclined seminar…but no one else seemed to like it…unless people did and i just didn’t pick up on that.

  4. There are several good articles about putty-nosed monkeys using different call combinations to communicate different meaning in this past week’s issue of Current Biology as well as in Nature (May 2006). What is this mention of a seminar next semester?

  5. dave, monkeys don’t have language ;)we should do a seminar – maybe work this into next fall’s biocultural one (kristen, you’re crazy, the idea was a hit).

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