Does anyone here speak Neanderthal?
Thread poster: Edward Potter

Edward Potter  Identity Verified
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Apr 26, 2008

Neanderthals speak again after 30,000 years

Wed Apr 16, 12:11 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Neanderthals have spoken out for the first time in 30,000 years, with the help of scientists who have simulated their voices using fossil evidence and a computer synthesizer.

Robert McCarthy, an anthropologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, used new reconstructions of Neanderthal vocal tracts to work out how they would have sounded, reported on Wednesday.

The conclusion is that Neanderthals spoke, but sounded rather different to us. Specifically, the ancient humans' lacked the "quantal vowel" sounds that underlie modern speech and which provide cues that help speakers understand one another.

By modeling the sounds that a Neanderthal larynx would have made, McCarthy's team engineered the sound of a Neanderthal saying "e." (To listen to McCarthy's simulation of a Neanderthal voice, visit:

In contrast to a modern human "e," the Neanderthal version lacks a quantal hallmark, which helps a listener distinguish the word "beat" from "bit," for instance. (To listen to a simulation of the modern human voice, visit:

McCarthy, who based his reconstructions on 50,000-year-old fossils from France, aims eventually to simulate an entire Neanderthal sentence.

Neanderthals were a dead-end offshoot of the human line who inhabited Europe and parts of west and central Asia. Researchers believe they survived in Europe until the arrival of modern humans about 30,000 years ago.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
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really interesting Apr 26, 2008

Hi Edward,

Thank you for a very interesting post

Have a great weekend


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United States
Local time: 16:51
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From a fossil? Apr 26, 2008

I'm with Washington University anthropologist Erik Trinkaus who disputes the finding’s significance. He says, “Ultimately what is important is not the anatomy of the mouth but the neuronal control of it,” referencing Neanderthals’ large brains.

I find it hard to believe that a parrot could produce vowel sounds better than a Neanderthal. This seems like junk science to me.

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Suzanne Blangsted  Identity Verified
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Neanderthal - indeed Apr 26, 2008

Indeed, it is an interesting article with interesting references, but I am with Casey. It seems to be an attempt at gain to fame by McCarthy.

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liz askew  Identity Verified
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Teenagers speak Neanderthal.. Apr 26, 2008

Sorry for the flippancy, but I just couldn't resist it! As a mother of a 15 year old boy, I feel qualified to put in my two pence worth; my 14 year old girl doesn't seem to have "mastered" it yet though:-)

Liz Askew

[Edited at 2008-04-26 15:53]

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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
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Really appreciate the post Apr 26, 2008

It's always hard to know whether to post or not, but as an immigrant to the Neanderthal area (Düsseldorf), I'm fascinated by and appreciate the assertion, even it's disputed. The museum is pretty interesting, no matter what one thinks.

How could this group have lived partly in parallel with Cro Magnon, yet not have left a DNA trace? That seems strange to me.

[Edited at 2008-04-26 22:19]

I meant to recommend Robin Dunbar's "Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language." It's not about Neanderthals, but for readers interested in prehistoric stuff, an interesting read. Dunbar suggests that song may have preceded speech and that groups larger than about 150 individuals have difficulty communicating/remaining coherent as a "group," which I imagine some of us have observed at the office.

[Edited at 2008-04-27 16:40]

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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:51
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it seems a little shaky. May 9, 2008

You could possibly create usable models based entirely on shapes and orientations
of the speech associated fossils. It seems as though a lot of important information
would be missing, but I don't really know much about the subject.

The big problem is verifiability. If you don't have a speaking Neanderthal with whom
to compare your model's results, it's anyone's guess whether or not the model is
any good. Maybe the researchers should create a corresponding model of a modern
human's speech organs, then listen to whether it sounds anything like a modern
human's speech (or maybe they've already done this).

Last year I almost rented a room within walking distance of the Neanderthal Museum.
It really was a nice room, and I really wanted to be able tell people that I was
a Neanderthaler, but the room was too far away from Düsseldorf for my liking.
I did end up living within easy driving distance of the valley though.

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