Neanderthal Language

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Paul Jackson
November 30, 2011
ANT 1010
Michelle Lappegarrd

Language of the Neanderthal

It is understood that the Neanderthal was an exceptional thinker and communicator; but there are heavy debates that question whether or not it spoke with a language. Some argue that the hyoid bone of the Neanderthal was too high in relation to its larynx to enable its tongue to form words, while others argue the opposite. With respect to both theories, it was indeed a linguistic hominid. The Neanderthal skull is more similar in shape to the Homo sapien than that of hominids before it; which would make it reasonable to believe that it was able to speak using language. Since it was the transitional species however, it may have been limited in its development of language usage. History of the Neanderthal

Before analyzing the arguments discussing the language used by the Neanderthals, it is important to understand what is known about them. Homo neanderthalensis is the last species in the evolution of hominids, which is not considered a “modern human.” After many years of study, and dozens of findings, scientists observed the differences in the shape of Neanderthal skulls compared to Homo sapiens. They discovered that the brain was smaller, the bones were much more robust, and that the Neanderthal had no chin. The first findings of Neanderthals were in Belgium, Germany, and Gibraltar, in the early to mid 1800s. Some of the most important findings of the Neanderthal were in the La Chapelle- aux- Saints caves of Southern France. The ideas that have come from these rolling hills have both hurt and helped the progress for valid information in Neanderthal studies. In 1908, Jean and Amédée Bouyssonie’s findings led many scientists to conclude that Neanderthals lived strictly in caves. This is now proven to be false. These rumors however, created widespread generalization that made Neanderthals appear vastly inferior to modern humans. One such generalization held sway and brought about artistic depictions of the Neanderthals being sluggish and awkward creatures. These depictions were created in reflection of the reconstruction of the “OId Man of La Chapelle- Aux- Saints” by French paleontologist, Marcellin Boule. The bones in the reconstruction of this particular Neanderthal were arthritic; and “although Boule was aware of the deforming illness…his reconstruction apparently did not take it into account sufficiently” (Sommer 2006:213). It wasn’t until the mid- 1900s that paleoanthropologists discovered that the Neanderthal walked upright and wasn’t slouched over at all. Discussions on the Neanderthal Hyoid Bone

Despite all of the progress that has been made in figuring out just who Homo neanderthalensis was, anthropologists still have a long way to go. There are many sub-topics about the enigmatic skeletal remains of the Neanderthal that are stirring up heated debates in the world of anthropology, and are still left to skepticism. One of the most controversial is whether it was able to speak with flexible tongue movements that were able to create sophisticated variances in sound; that moreover allowed it to live with social interactions that rivaled the ones we use today. The hyoid bone and larynx position of the Neanderthal compared to Homo sapiens is the most explored aspect of this debate of language. In these arguments, the morphology of the organs and bones in the neck are often times more of a concern than their functionality. The hyoid is a U shaped bone, responsible for harnessing the movements of the tongue. It is located just above the larynx, which is also known as the voice box. The larynx and hyoid bone are positioned in a way that work together to form the words heard among modern day humans. In the early 1970s, scientists E.S. Crelin and Philip Lieberman reassembled the larynx of the Neanderthal and came up with a strong theory that is still agreed with today. They found that the...
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