Thursday, 3 November 2011

Gruntin Neanderthals

A frein draws ma attention tae this story fae 2008 aboot Neanderthal speech. Robert McCarthy haes biggit a model o the Neanderthal vocal tract and synthesised the vowel ‘ee’. The New Scientist coverage o McCarthy’s conference paper quotes him as saying “They would have spoken a bit differently. They wouldn't have been able to produce these quantal vowels that form the basis of spoken language.” Later in the airticle this has become, “Though subtle, the linguistic difference would have limited Neanderthal speech.” The Telegraph picked up the story but drapt the New Scientist’s coverage o the discussion, in parteecular Erik Trinkaus’s view: "Ultimately what is important is not the anatomy of the mouth but the neuronal control of it."

Ah had tae gang an leuk up 'quantal vowels' (the abstract o this airticle be K. N. Stevens did the job) - apparently there aboot hauf a dizzen vowel souns that dinnae shaw muckle variation fae ane speaker tae anither (despite big differs in the vocal tract atween the sexes and accordin tae age). The idea is that thir are kinna calibration pyints for unnerstaunin speech.

Oor Neanderthal correspondent comments:

The idea that we have a prob with this is so much mammoth poo.

a) the scientists have synthesised one vowel so far - the rush to relegate us to football fan status on the basis of such fragmentary evidence is wholly typical of the prejudice against us, but we say, "Nya nya, sticks and stones," because we don't do victimhood;
b) there are modern languages that get by with two vowels, and some linguists argue there are languages with one (highly variable - uncalibrated!) vowel. Who needs vowels? We have more consonants than anybody!
c) we calibrate on a sliding scale - easy peasy - we have bigger brains than anybody!
d) and we wrestle woolly rhinos!

No comments:

Post a Comment