Posted: Apr 28, 2019 6:01 am
by Spearthrower
Macdoc wrote:Is it just in popular view ...???

As far as I know, yes.

Macdoc wrote:... seems to me acknowledging art and speech was fairly recent

Art, yes... but not speech. That's ancient news. The original Neanderthal skeletons (1856) lacked a hyoid bone (it's very fragile), so it was hypothesized from that they could not speak. However, it was only a couple of decades later than Neanderthals with fragmented pieces of hyoid bones were discovered, so the assumption upon which the argument was initially proposed was falsified a loooong time ago. A complete hyoid wasn't actually discovered until the 70's or 80's, but by then it was pretty much academic.

In my undergraduate in the 90's, it was already one of those little academic stories which serve as a backdrop to understanding the history of the field, and it was commonly accepted that they employed complex symbolic behaviors like speech and art, albeit in a different and probably less sophisticated way to early sapiens. Given the historical context, many discussions revolved around how we might know if Neanderthals used speech - it obviously not fossilizing.

The routine arguments were that the manner of hunting they employed would have required complex social interactions, and that the sophistication of their tool-making would require the ability to communicate... personally, I don't think either of these are particularly good arguments, but all the facts together suggest that their social world was as involving as early humans, and language certainly seems to be a prerequisite for that.

I think Dan Dediu phrased it best: the debate isn't really about whether Neanderthals could speak, the debate is really about what language is.