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The Evolutionary Emergence of LanguageEvidence and Inference$
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Rudolf Botha and Martin Everaert

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199654840

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199654840.001.0001

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Neanderthal linguistic abilities: an alternative view

Neanderthal linguistic abilities: an alternative view

(p.97) 6 Neanderthal linguistic abilities: an alternative view
The Evolutionary Emergence of Language

Katharine MacDonald

Wil Roebroeks

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses the potential role of ethnographic evidence in the study of language evolution. Taking Neanderthals' accomplishment in hunting large animals as a point of departure for a comparative exercise, it starts out from the assumption that efficient forms of communication and of knowledge transference by teaching lay at the root of Pleistocene hominin hunting skills. Does the same hold good for the Neanderthals? While it is not possible to investigate this question in any direct manner; it is possible to study the way in which and the contexts where communication enhances efficiency among extant hunter-gatherers whose subsistence practices are in at least some ways comparable to those of Neanderthals. The chapter focuses on the role of verbal instruction in the acquisition of hunting skills by children of modern hunter-gatherers. An extensive cross-cultural study of how hunting skills are acquired by the children of hunter-gatherers demonstrates that verbal instruction about animal behaviour is rare. However, these children do have access to information about this behaviour as contained in hunting stories and oral traditions. Thus, verbal instruction has a relatively limited role in hunter-gatherer children's acquisition of hunting skills as well as in their acquisition of subsistence skills in general. Based on these findings, the chapter concludes that a range of forms of communication and social learning were important to the Neanderthals in acquiring hunting skills; but that verbal instruction was ‘not important’ to them. That is, language would have been useful to the Neanderthals in the transmission of hunting skills, but was ‘not essential’.

Keywords:   Neanderthals, language evolution, hunting skills, communication, hunter-gatherers, verbal instruction

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