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Computers Emulate Neanderthal Speech

Zonk posted about 6 years ago | from the borrow-a-cup-of-evolution dept.

Science 220

Clarence writes "After some 30,000 years of silence, the Neanderthal race is once again speaking thanks to some advanced computer simulation. A Florida Atlantic University professor is using software vocal tract reconstructions to emulate the speech of our long-dead distant relatives. 'He says the ancient human's speech lacked the "quantal vowel" sounds that underlie modern speech. Quantal vowels provide cues that help speakers with different size vocal tracts understand one another, says Robert McCarthy, who was talking at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Columbus, Ohio, on April 11. In the 1970s, linguist Phil Lieberman, of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, inferred the dimensions of the larynx of a Neanderthal based on its skull. His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.'"

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220 comments

Obligatory joke (4, Funny)

bughunter (10093) | about 6 years ago | (#23096764)

His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.

I'm imagining, then, that it sounded something like "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

[ducks]

Re:Obligatory joke (5, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | about 6 years ago | (#23097046)

I'm imagining, then, that it sounded something like "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

[ducks]
I was thinking more along the lines of "I'm the decider! You've done a heck of a job, Brownie." But I could be completely wrong. It might sound more like "Developers developers developers developers."

Why simulate neanderthal speech ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23098278)

They could just play some recordings of Canadians.

Re:Why simulate neanderthal speech ? (2, Insightful)

SlashWombat (1227578) | about 6 years ago | (#23098580)

Now thats funny ... since the rest of the world initially identifies a Canadian accent as a USA one!

Re:Obligatory joke (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 6 years ago | (#23097230)

I'm imagining, then, that it sounded something like "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

      And it was apparently incapable of pronouncing the world nuclear as something other than nukular.

Re:Obligatory joke (1)

Digi-John (692918) | about 6 years ago | (#23097350)

Speech patterns--they're funny! Bostonians are idiots because they drop the 'r'!
Seriously, some of the smartest people I know say "nukular", it's just how some parts of the country say it. There are far better criticisms of the Pres. than how he says "nuclear".

Re:Obligatory joke (0, Flamebait)

Gewalt (1200451) | about 6 years ago | (#23097522)

And how many of those people have the proverbial (and literal) keys to hundreds of "nukular" bombs? Those other people have a valid excuse for saying it wrong. The Pres. does not. of ALL the people in the world, HE, MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE should know the difference.

I don't expect everyone in china to know how to wield a Katana, but I do expect imperial guard to know a thing or two about them.

Re:Obligatory joke (3, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | about 6 years ago | (#23098796)

And how many of those people have the proverbial (and literal) keys to hundreds of "nukular" bombs? .... of ALL the people in the world, HE, MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE should know the difference.
How does that follow?

I've got this weird little quirk where, whenever I try to say the words "Seat Heater", it comes out as "Heat Seater". I have to really concentrate on it in order to say it properly. So, by your logic, I should never be allowed to own a car with seat heaters?

Seriously, if you want to pick on the guy for some of his policy decisions, fine, but picking on him for the way he pronounces a word is just silly. Grow up.

Just great (5, Funny)

CSMatt (1175471) | about 6 years ago | (#23096804)

Computers are already cryptic enough when they speak normal English. I'd rather not have to hear one say "Me get segfault. Me dump core."

Re:Just great (2, Informative)

DarkOx (621550) | about 6 years ago | (#23097986)

Well acording to the TFA, I think it would sound more like: "Mmm gut suggfutt Mmm dup cor" even that might be a bit vowl lead sylable happy for our simple spoken ancestors.

Does this work for present humans? (2, Insightful)

AdamTrace (255409) | about 6 years ago | (#23096810)

If he can take the vocal tract of a fresh cadaver, and using only that, comes up with software that says "Nice weather we're having, eh wot?" then I'll be impressed... Otherwise, how can we verify his claims?

Re:Does this work for present humans? (4, Interesting)

Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) | about 6 years ago | (#23096832)

Although I find it hard to believe that there is still discussion as to whether or not Neanderthals had speech. They existed as a discreet species for over 100,000 years and even primates having diverged millions of years before that show basic signs of verbal communication. I would be really curious to see how aspects of proto Indo-European would sound as pronounced by Neanderthals. The last fossils come from France and Spain some 35,000 years ago and it's not unrealistic to suppose that some version of the language would have been spoken by them.

Le Ugh (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097022)

The last fossils come from France and Spain some 35,000 years ago and it's not unrealistic to suppose that some version of the language would have been spoken by them.

Le Ugh? Or El Ugh?!?

That's assuming that "Ugh" is masculine. Maybe, the Neanderthals had different genders for their nouns.

Re:Le Ugh (1)

Zaatxe (939368) | about 6 years ago | (#23098914)

The ones in France would say "le ugh" for masculine and "la ughe" for feminine. The ones in Spain would say "el ugho" for masculine and "la ugha" for feminine. And the ones in Portugal would say "o ugho" for masculine and both "a ugha" and "a ughe" for feminine.

(DISCLAIMER: I'm fluent in Portuguese and Spanish and I've studied French for about a year.)

Re:Does this work for present humans? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097116)

Legitimate linguists make no claims whatever about 35,000-year-old languages. The rate of language change is such that no one can possibly know anything about a language at such a time depth. There's no reason at all to expect any connection between proto-Indo-European and something we imagine might have been spoken by Neanderthals. Yes, your notion is unrealistic--exceedingly so.

Re:Does this work for present humans? (4, Interesting)

Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) | about 6 years ago | (#23097422)

I'm not making a claim that Neanderthals spoke PIE and yes, language changes faster than any kind of morphologic trait. The question is whether language was a spontaneous innovation that occurred multiple times around the world, or if there was one mother tongue that everything else derived from. There may be absolutely no correlation between PIE and what the Neanderthal spoke but anthropological and archaeological evidence is so murky from that time period that it would irresponsible to rule something out just because it isn't part of what is considered to be mainstream.

Re:Does this work for present humans? (5, Interesting)

Mantaar (1139339) | about 6 years ago | (#23097258)

Dude, his research is close to a tautology anyways: "His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.'"

Who the hell gave the grant for this research? Of course, you can sort of create an apparatus that follows the same constraints as a Neanderthal larynx would have followed, but apart from piping /dev/urandom through it, you really can't do jack with it.

Now, we're fairly sure that concerning syntax, early human's language surely followed some sort of predicative model - that can be seen when analyzing more isolated and primitive languages (which are mostly dead by now) - especially aboriginal languages of America and Oceania/Australia. Sentences there usually are of the form "This is an Apple. This is red." - instead of "This is a red apple". Basically they were speaking in "features", chaining them together, which resulted in either isolating languages (words have no inflection and are immutable, syntactic structure gives a sentence meaning "This apple is. This red is." Chinese works this way) or agglutinating languages (like early Nahuatl, they would incorporate subjects and objects into their words: "Thisapple and Thisred".) in the end. More sophisticated stuff, like polysynthetic languages (Inuktitut) and inflectional languages (Germanic) are thought to have evolved thereafter. But of course, this is one hypothesis and there is no way of proving any of this. You can only use fairly circumstantial evidence.

And what this guy did was in no fucking way making "Neanderthals talk". Not even close. He just explored what kind of restrictions the anatomy of a Neanderthal's speech tract would impose on their phonetics (not even phonology let alone phonotaxis), so basically, he can now say: this is what it would have sounded like, but not more. Talk about misleading summaries/headlines/articles.

Re:Does this work for present humans? (-1, Flamebait)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 years ago | (#23097430)

Wow, I guess these people should ahve consulted you~
At least that way they could ahve a good laugh when they remember your crap later.

citation needed (1)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | about 6 years ago | (#23097866)

Now, we're fairly sure that ...

It's fine that you've said this, so long as it's understood that by "we," you do not mean "professional historical linguists," but far rather "Dan Brown-level crackpot armchair speculators."

Yes and no. (3, Interesting)

jd (1658) | about 6 years ago | (#23098090)

I agree completely with most of what you say, but you CAN do certain things, though they are very limited. The range of phonemes planetwide is vast (far and away larger than can be produced in a language like English), and in principle you could collect all of those phonemes and see which ones could be reproduced by a Neanderthal. You can then categorize which sounds are correctly reproduced, which are "good enough" (comprehensible to someone with another dialect, or perhaps another native language) and which are nowhere close. The summary suggests that that phonemes associated with a certain specific class of vowels always fall into the "nowhere close" category, meaning that if those phonemes were used, regions would not be mutually intelligable by vocal communication.

This assumes several things. It assumes phonemes were used, for example. There's an island where the native language is communicated by whistles. The language, if I recall the article correctly, is descended from Spanish. The series of whistles constitute a series of samples at regular intervals along Spanish words, so there is a 1:1 translation between the two. Whistles, of course, do not use phonemes at all and therefore such a form of communication is not subject to the intelligability of sounds. (All I need is one example to prove that there exists a real, plausible solution that violates the assumptions made. I don't need to prove that the solution actually applied to Neanderthals, so long as my attempt to falsify really is plausible.)

If phonemes were used, then it assumes that language drifted sufficiently for a communication barrier to exist. That's more reasonable. Neanderthals didn't have that much mobility, so maintaining a unified language and accent across the entire space they occupied, over the entire time Neanderthals existed, would likely have been impossible. I can buy into the idea of there being sufficient drift to cause problems over a large enough distance, but if there is an intelligability problem and communication with nearest neighbour is absolutely essential, that drift was locked within certain parameters and (if you want to look at it in modern networking terms) could not have exceeded some limit on a per-hop basis. That might be an interesting result to have.

It also assumes that the constraints were the same. Modern languages are heavily based on very complex grammars and therefore don't need a particularly wide range of sounds or symbols. Very early written languages directly descend from pictographic systems and require a considerably greater number of symbols and signifiers. By inference, I'm going to say that very early spoken languages would also use a much wider range of sounds and fewer rules for inferring a specific meaning for a specific sound in a specific context. If that is correct, and the parent poster seems to have vastly more knowledge on this than I do so can probably answer this, it should be much rarer for two distinct words to sound alike enough to be confusing even with different accents.

Re:Does this work for present humans? (1)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#23098108)

Dude, his research is close to a tautology anyways: "His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.'"

To be fair, the complete paper probably came to more conclusions than that and justified them better than a one line summary. If you summed up Newton's work with "Gravity made the apple fall toward earth," that would sound ridiculously obvious too.
Crick, Wilkin's and Franklin's * discovery of the structure of DNA also could sound unimportant if you just state it like "DNA is in a double helix."

*side note: that other guy has gotten far too much credit he doesn't deserve.

Re:Does this work for present humans? (1)

Konster (252488) | about 6 years ago | (#23097934)

Adam, the clear solution is to go back in time and listen to them speak.

Think outside the box!

Groan. (4, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | about 6 years ago | (#23096812)

Let me guess.. the simulator immediately tried to sell people car insurance.

Re:Groan. (4, Funny)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 years ago | (#23098478)

It's people like you who sterotype all cavemen that are the problem, you insensitive clod. Some of them hunt, or sell rocks, or whatever it is they do. It's not just about selling insurance!

close approximation (2, Funny)

rigelstar (243170) | about 6 years ago | (#23096878)

It's remarkable that they were able to get that close to the actual sound. I feel like I've gone back in time hearing that reproduction.

Neanderthals weren't subtle? (3, Interesting)

pclminion (145572) | about 6 years ago | (#23096886)

Who would have guessed.

I wonder if early humans, such as Neanderthals, communicated primarily by speech or by a combination of speech and hand signals. The fact that human infants as young as 7 months (at the extreme) are capable of communication by signs, even before they are able to talk, suggests to me that language ability in humans might have evolved prior to the development of a modern vocal tract.

I would not be surprised, if we could go back in time, to see early humans communicating primarily by signs, with vocal communication only as a backup. After all, you don't want to make noise when hunting game anyway.

Re:Neanderthals weren't subtle? (2, Interesting)

spleen_blender (949762) | about 6 years ago | (#23096952)

All mammals seem to have some form of intercommunication it seems though by that measure, even if it is by scent or subtle body/tail movements. Is our only difference the specificity which our language can define our environment?

Re:Neanderthals weren't subtle? (5, Interesting)

pclminion (145572) | about 6 years ago | (#23097002)

All mammals seem to have some form of intercommunication it seems though by that measure, even if it is by scent or subtle body/tail movements. Is our only difference the specificity which our language can define our environment?

I think the real difference between human communication and that of other animals is the fact that we have grammars which directly encode semantic content. An ape can be taught to sign, but the signing lacks grammar, being more a string of symbols with no clear semantic relation.

Modern sign languages are grammatical. I think the sign languages of ancient humans were probably grammatical as well. In other words, I'm speculating that grammar might have evolved before speech did.

Re:Neanderthals weren't subtle? (2, Interesting)

gardyloo (512791) | about 6 years ago | (#23097774)

Perhaps, perhaps. A recent National Geographic article about animals' communications stressed the _grammar_ inherent (the order of words definitely mattered, and not just in a "fetch the green ball and then the red ball" way) in some ways that animal owners were able to talk to their pets. Or perhaps not. Anyway, the article is here: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/03/animal-minds/virginia-morell-text/1 [nationalgeographic.com]

Re:Neanderthals weren't subtle? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097138)

I would not be surprised, if we could go back in time

I would.

Re:Neanderthals weren't subtle? (1)

jrumney (197329) | about 6 years ago | (#23097284)

I wonder if early humans, such as Neanderthals, communicated primarily by speech or by a combination of speech and hand signals.

The Neanderthals who infest the streets around here on a Friday night certainly use the combination. Ug Punch!

Re:Neanderthals weren't subtle? (1)

bendodge (998616) | about 6 years ago | (#23097568)

I'm not an expert on evolution, so I was reading about Neanderthals on Wikipedia. I don't understand what isn't human about them. They even buried their dead with flowers.

They seem to me like normal people without modern technology.

Re:Neanderthals weren't subtle? (2, Insightful)

fireboy1919 (257783) | about 6 years ago | (#23097692)

Of course, he could also just be wrong.

So the issue here is a lack of useful larnyx to produce certain vowel sounds.

Since when is language dependent on that? It's just icing.

Try this: Take a balloon or beach ball filled with air. Blow the air into your mouth at approximately the rate that your breathe out while talking (without breathing it in), and use your mouth to shape the air into words.

Entirely without the aid of any voicebox - not even an inferior one - you should be able to produce understandable English. Considering that Neanderthals were probably speaking something much less complex than that, I doubt they'd have had any trouble.

The modern vocal tract makes it *slightly* easier to talk, but really I think that it's really the human equivalent of plumage.

Re:Neanderthals weren't subtle? (1)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | about 6 years ago | (#23097954)

The larynx isn't really that important for producing vowel sounds - the length of the vocal tract above the larynx (or more specifically, above the vocal folds), plus the change in shape and volume that can be made (with the tongue, movement of the jaw, and to some degree, by passing air through velum into the nasal passages) are far more significant in terms of producing a variety of vowel sounds. Not to say that phonation isn't important, but what makes distinct vowels in modern human speech is mostly manipulation of the resonant chamber.

That said, language in modern humans probably isn't at all dependent on speech, though like most things in linguistics that's subject so debate.

Gutturals... (4, Funny)

davidsyes (765062) | about 6 years ago | (#23096912)

Throw in a Tuvan throat singer, an Aussie with a digidiroo, and Hal, and we'll have oen halluv an ensemble going.

(Oh, throw in Shatner with some Esperanto, too... and some Kirk-being-stunned-on-heavy break dance...)

Sponsored by the letter "e" (1)

xPsi (851544) | about 6 years ago | (#23096990)

Unless I'm not finding a link in the article, it seems like they only managed to simulate the letter "e [newscientist.com] ". Not exactly full speech emulation (yet) and sounds a bit like Stephen Hawking. Still, kinda cool. One can only assume the next effort will include the full poetic expression: Eegah [imdb.com]

We see & hear it on David Letterman Show (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23096994)

Why all the hard work? We see & hear it on David Letterman show every night (great moments in Presidential history, last segment)

Caucasians (2, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 6 years ago | (#23097000)

I think that Caucasians have lots of Neanderthal genes. We are so big and bulky compared to other regions...

we know (5, Funny)

Trailer Trash (60756) | about 6 years ago | (#23097016)

His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.

It's well-established in our cartoons and such that neanderthals often use the objective "me" rather than nominative "I", i.e. "me doug". Looks like the verb of being wasn't invented yet, either...

Re:we know (1)

cheesecake23 (1110663) | about 6 years ago | (#23097456)

Looks like the verb of being wasn't invented yet, either...
He's a French fossil, so he's speaking French: 'est' = 'is'. Not only is the verb of being already invented, THAT'S WHAT HE'S SAYING! I actually suspect this guy is the Neanderthal René Descartes formulating the caveman version of "I think, therefore ..."

Donkey Kong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097018)

In other news: Monkey boy utters something

Re:Donkey Kong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097164)

Apparently his first words were "Kaaaaay Efffffff Seeeeee"

pointless science? (2, Insightful)

deepershade (994429) | about 6 years ago | (#23097056)

Honestly. Neanderthal man lacked our subtlty?

Color me shocked.
What were they expecting? Cavemen who recited poetry?

Re:pointless science? (2, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 years ago | (#23097526)

It's another remaqrkable point in how hast we gained speech.

It really hasn't been that long, and our speech as evolved an emence amount. Obviously that's because it is advantages.

They may have been suspecting this, but a great many times since has done research to find out something completely unexpected, a 'this is odd' moment.

Re:pointless science? (1)

turing_m (1030530) | about 6 years ago | (#23098902)

"What were they expecting? Cavemen who recited poetry?"

I suppose "Developers! Developers! Developers!" could be considered a primitive form of poetry.

We've come so far (0, Offtopic)

Fynnsky (1238708) | about 6 years ago | (#23097070)

So after 30,000 years we've managed to invent the technology to make sounds like we did 30,000 years ago. Wow... We've come so far

Who needs subtlety? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097094)

His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.


But much like Jock speech, it was still sufficient to get Neanderthal man laid.

annoying speculation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097202)

like the sub-jurassic park adventure movie dressed up as science "walking with dinosaurs"... pure speculation that is pretty much unable to be substantiated in any way.

seriously, if we could tell everything about an animal, how it sounded, how it acted etc from a fossil, it would make the interpretation of new living species discovery easier. just take a dead body back to the lab, it will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know.

I, for one, welcome (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097246)

our inarticulate Neanderthal overlords

We still know nothing about how they sounded (1)

Fencepost (107992) | about 6 years ago | (#23097250)

Any languages being used could easily have used sounds that are not a part of most languages currently in use. I believe the key sounds differ between most western languages and many Asian languages, and then you get the more exotic sounds like click consonants [wikipedia.org] .

A more limited vocal range does not necessarily imply more limited communication abilities. If it did, dolphins might be justified in deciding that we bipeds are clearly incapable of intelligent communication.

Re:We still know nothing about how they sounded (1)

FSWKU (551325) | about 6 years ago | (#23098380)

...dolphins might be justified in deciding that we bipeds are clearly incapable of intelligent communication.

Well, if cetaceans read Slashdot (or any other forum, for that matter), they would have all the proof they needed to make their point valid.

*ducks*

French Neanderthals (1)

cheesecake23 (1110663) | about 6 years ago | (#23097282)

[...] the linguist teamed with McCarthy to simulate Neanderthal speech based on new reconstructions of three Neanderthal vocal tracts. The 50,000-year old fossils all came from France.
No wonder then the old frog is pronouncing 'e' as in his native 'et' ...

The Other Obligatory Joke (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 6 years ago | (#23097296)

linguist Phil Lieberman...concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech
My, how cunning of him.

Andre the Giant (0, Troll)

jmichaelg (148257) | about 6 years ago | (#23097312)

Several years ago, I was running to catch a plane at SF Airport and Andre the Giant came lumbering down the concourse going the other way. Seeing him in person was quite a shock because it drove home two key points that I hadn't noticed watching the Princess Bride.
  1. He was truly huge. Not knowing how big Robert the Pirate was I didn't get a clear idea how big Andre was when they had their battle. At 7'4" and 500 pounds, he was easily the biggest man I've ever seen by far.
  2. He had several features that suggested he had Neanderthal genes in his blood. He had a very pronounced brow ridge, the lumbering aspect you would expect of a Neanderthal and solid muscle mass.
I know that Neanderthals aren't thought to have cross bred with Cro-Magnon but seeing Andre in the flesh made me seriously doubt that theory. Perhaps we've recovered Neanderthal DNA and I'm all wet but absent definitive proof that no cross breeding was possible, Andre's collection of phenotypes suggests that cross breeding did take place. His acting suggested he was quite bright as playing dumb isn't that easy so if he indeed did have Neanderthal genes, it suggests Neanderthals died out for some reason other than intellect. Maybe they just assimilated over 50,000 years.

Re:Andre the Giant (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097642)

Insensitive Clod.

I mean, I know /. is sort of a rolling asshat conference, but you'd think someone would at least bother to check Wikipedia.

Andre had pituitary gigantism. His "phenotype" was not related to his ancestry, but rather to the crippling growth hormone disorder that caused acromegaly, along with the heart problems that would kill him eventually.

Re:Andre the Giant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097644)

Nice theory, the only problem is that neandertals weren't any bigger than modern humans. Giant people aren't regressions to an extinct species of giants, they just have a couple of random genetic mutations that affect their growth.

The summary could be clearer re: subtlety (3, Interesting)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | about 6 years ago | (#23097354)

I see some posts about how it's not surprising that Neanderthal speech wasn't surprising, and what did they expect, poetry?

This research isn't about what the Neanderthals said - it's about the kinds of sounds they were able to produce with their vocal tracts (or Liberman's models of them). The lack of subtlety is the lack of the ability to produce recognizably distinct vowel sounds.

Great News for the People of Michigan! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23097358)

Sweet. So if computers can simulate neanderthals can it run a quick simulation to tell the citizens of Detroit why Kwame Kilpatrick won't resign?

Re:Great News for the People of Michigan! (0, Flamebait)

Bryansix (761547) | about 6 years ago | (#23097570)

Not so fast. I want that computer to run a sim on how Ted Kennedy has stayed in office so long.

Please synthesize human speech first? :-) (1)

Peaker (72084) | about 6 years ago | (#23097408)

There doesn't seem to be a single working human speech synthesizer that doesn't sound like metal squeaking.

I'd say first they should "emulate" human speech, then move to more difficult targets :-)

First thing the simulated neandrethal said (-1, Offtopic)

syousef (465911) | about 6 years ago | (#23097426)

Viiisss-ta suuux. Me go baack XP. Where did you want be Yes-teeerrrrr-day.

Speculation and COnjecture (1)

Bryansix (761547) | about 6 years ago | (#23097560)

This article is all speculation and conjecture. Besides we all know all you need to communicate is one sound. Clicking in a certain sequence will work just as well as Morris Code or Binary.

Idiot proofing to the extreme? (1)

ramsejc (671676) | about 6 years ago | (#23097604)

Could this be an evolutionary leap in the old saying "Make it idiot-proof, the world will make a bigger idiot." Now we are making it Neanderthal-proof?

What real world benefits can we obtain by having a computer that can communicate in a Neanderthal's native language? Are expecting to have an intergalactic run-in with a group of Neanderthals from another planet? All of the Neanderthal people on earth are either dead, or work for the return department at Best Buy, in which case they are provided with a computer by their employer.

What's on Slashdot tomorrow? A laptop for every cro-magnon?

Inter species communication (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | about 6 years ago | (#23097628)

Based on the sample apparently they were able to talk to frogs. Don't believe me, play the clip several times fast.

Not actually our ancestors (4, Insightful)

xdancergirlx (872890) | about 6 years ago | (#23097678)

Although this doesn't make the simulation any less interesting, the article is misleading:
Neanderthals are not really "ancient humans", they are a different branch of the hominid line that probably co-existed with our ancestors.

I suppose it is fitting for an anthropologist but I also find it a bit anthroprocentric that because the simulation suggests they did not produce the same types of sounds as humans that they somehow did not have subtleties in their language nor could they have a spoken language. It is possible they simply spoke to one another differently (maybe in Morse Code using grunts and whistles).

The archaeologist's perspective (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23098520)

A few things I'd like to say. Firstly Neanderthals have suffered a lot of bad press over the years. The word itself is often used to describe "Homer Simpson" type people, i.e. stupid.

What most people aren't aware of is that when compared by cc Neanderthal brains were, in fact, larger than those of modern humans. You and I have a mass of around 1400cc, a Neanderthal 1500cc. (a rough guess, anthropology classes were a long time ago) How much of this is extra mass is related to them having more musculature thus greater need for control, we don't really know.

Still, they were certainly smart. As far as culture goes, Neanderthals had rudimentary technology and more importantly they had ritual. Graves show that they buried their dead with flowers and other trinkets. This suggests some concept of "remorse" or even the afterlife. These are clearly human traits, so they were obviously closer to us in thinking than other apes.

On the main subject of Neanderthal language. Well, there's a theory that it is not, in fact, an extinct language at all. In northern Spain and southern France there's a strange "language islote" called Basque. As far as modern linguists are concerned this language exists in a little language family of its own, totally unrelated to any other in the global family. It certainly pre-dates the Indo-European languages that are prevalent in most of Europe. This raises another question is: What is the Origin of the Basques? Who knows?

However, it may JUST be coincidence that the last (as far as archaeologists can tell) Neanderthals lived in Iberia. So is Basque is the linguistic cockroach - staying alive when all around it dies? Who knows. There is some strange evidence. Basque people have a 55% O blood group - the highest percentage in the world, which suggests some genetic differentiation from the rest of us. In a nut shell, though, we really don't have a clue.

Don't need a computer .. (1)

NaishWS (1263540) | about 6 years ago | (#23098562)

I swear, half my friends sound like Neanderthals after their 10th or so drink. Heck, get my friend's mobiles and listen to any of the messages I left on their phone at 3am. "He says the ancient human's speech lacked the 'quantal vowel'" .. yep sounds about right.

Computers Emulate Neanderthal /. Speech (1)

TristanGrimaux (841255) | about 6 years ago | (#23098668)

First thought: computers emulate Slashdot editors, but science, as always is ahead of my imagination.

first sentences (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23098958)

Thanks to this simulation, we finally hear what early man's first sentences were: "wheeze the j-uice"

Poor word choice (1)

belg4mit (152620) | about 6 years ago | (#23098960)

They produced a model to analyze *vocalization* not speech.
Saying that a gorilla, dog, or Neanderthal speaks implies connotes certain things.

Neanderthals are Canadian? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23098986)

All the model needs is a tuke, eh?
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