The Language of Neanderthals


By Katharine Allen & Barry S. Olsen

Published: 10 July 2013


From Science 2.0...


Article excerpt:  Our prehistoric close cousins, the Neandertals, were more similar than science used to think in a variety of ways. And according to a new paper, they had something resembling modern speech and language, which can be traced back to the last common ancestor we shared with the Neanderthals roughly half a million years ago...Their interpretation of the intrinsically ambiguous 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.


Link to the full news story here.


InterpretAmerica's take: We recently pointed readers to the annual Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington, DC, which celebrated the world's unique and disappearing diversity of languages. As translators and interpreters, our professional lives revolve around grappling with the complexity of human language. We instinctively understand, perhaps better than any group, why technology still has a such a long way to go before being able to transfer meaning successfully using mathematical algorithms. The research highlighted in this seems to shed light on that inherent complexity. If human languages are not just 50,000 years old, as is commonly held, but closer to a million years of age, no wonder it takes professional translators and interpreters years to acquire the skills to make sense of the innumerable variances and nuances found between even those languages that are closely related. 

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