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Did Neandertals have language?
Date:7/9/2013

uous and scant evidence goes against the scenario usually assumed by most language scientists, namely that of a sudden and recent emergence of modernity, presumably due to a single or very few genetic mutations. This pushes back the origins of modern language by a factor of 10 from the often-cited 50 or so thousand years, to around a million years ago somewhere between the origins of our genus, Homo, some 1.8 million years ago, and the emergence of Homo heidelbergensis. This reassessment of the evidence goes against a saltationist scenario where a single catastrophic mutation in a single individual would suddenly give rise to language, and suggests that a gradual accumulation of biological and cultural innovations is much more plausible.

Interestingly, given that we know from the archaeological record and recent genetic data that the modern humans spreading out of Africa interacted both genetically and culturally with the Neandertals and Denisovans, then just as our bodies carry around some of their genes, maybe our languages preserve traces of their languages too. This would mean that at least some of the observed linguistic diversity is due to these ancient encounters, an idea testable by comparing the structural properties of the African and non-African languages, and by detailed computer simulations of language spread.


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Contact: Dan Dediu
Dan.Dediu@mpi.nl
31-243-521-188
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert

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