Reconstructing the Neanderthal throat—did they have their own language?

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Image: Discover

At the very least, in order for spoken language to be a possibility, a species has to have the right anatomical equipment. Studies of the Neanderthal skeleton can help to shed some light on this question by revealing whether Neanderthals possessed the features necessary for speech—and what that speech might have sounded like.

Sandra Martelli, a researcher in biology and anatomy at the University College London, has been working with computer models to try to reconstruct the most likely configuration of the Neanderthal vocal tract. Martelli and colleagues took CT scans of modern human heads, including the hyoid, and mapped those on to CT scans of Neanderthal skulls to see where the Neanderthal hyoid [sat].


Martelli and colleagues then used custom software called Simus_Neanderthal to test the acoustic properties of the simulated Neanderthal vocal tract. This software allowed their Neanderthal model to “speak” different vowel sounds.

So, Neanderthals had the anatomical properties to create the sounds that could form the basis of speech, though any words they produced would have sounded a bit unfamiliar to modern human ears. If there was a Neanderthal language, we will likely never be able to access it.

Read full, original post: The Neanderthal Throat—Did Neanderthals Speak?

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