The Loh Down On Science

Neander-Talk

An anthropologist recreates a voice from the past.

If Neanderthals could talk, what stories they-- But wait, maybe they can!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

And with a voice not heard since the Ice Age -

[Neanderthal voice ('eee')]

That's the computer-simulated sound of Neanderthal speech-- The work of anthropologist Robert McCarthy of Florida Atlantic University and linguist Philip Lieberman of Brown University.

Using fifty thousand year old fossils from France, the researchers reconstructed the larynx and vocal tracts of Neanderthals, fed the results into a computer, and voila! [Neanderthal voice ('eee')]

Studies show Neanderthals carried genes enabling them to produce language. But, McCarthy and Brown say, their physiology--large nasal cavity, long face, short neck--prevented them from producing "quantal vowel" sounds of modern humans.

For example, our "E" sound goes like this:

[('eee')]

It helps us distinguish between words like "sleep" and "slip."

With their limited vocal abilities, Neanderthals would have had more trouble making themselves understood.

So when Neando-mom warned the kids, "don't slip on the ice," they heard, "don't SLEEP on the ice." And, kids being kids, they went out and did it. And the rest-- or at least the Neanderthals--were history.

Or so we [theeeeenk].


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