More on Neanderthal Language.

Back in 2013 we discussed some silly and/or overstated ideas about languages possibly spoken by Neanderthals; now I have to bring to your attention a paragraph from an otherwise excellent LRB review by John Lanchester (of Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, 17 December 2020; archived) which is similarly credulous:

There has been debate over whether the Neanderthals could make fire, as distinct from using it once they found it. Bruniquel shows that they had mastery of fire, and is evidence also of social organisation, the ability to imagine, and perhaps of a structured society. Does all this structure and learning and social context imply that they could talk? Wragg Sykes thinks that, ‘taking everything on balance, it’s very likely Neanderthals spoke in some form.’ The gene FOXP2 is sometimes, misleadingly, called the ‘language gene’, which it isn’t quite, but we do know that it is crucially linked to the development of speech. Neanderthals had FOXP2, though in a variant with one protein different from ours. It is sometimes argued that the oldest surviving human languages are those of the Khoisan peoples in Southern Africa, which make extensive use of clicks and glottal noises. If the oldest H. sapiens languages were like that, perhaps Neanderthal languages were too.

Note the progression from Wragg Sykes’ unexceptionable “it’s very likely Neanderthals spoke in some form” to “It is sometimes argued” (a blinking red warning sign) to the wild-blue-yonder “If the oldest H. sapiens languages were like that, perhaps Neanderthal languages were too.” Why, oh why, are people so unable to resist this kind of thing when it comes to language?

I repeat, the rest of the review is fascinating, and I learned some things I hadn’t known; I just wish they’d left out those last two sentences.

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says

    It is sometimes argued that the oldest surviving human languages are those of the Khoisan peoples in Southern Africa, which make extensive use of clicks and glottal noises. If the oldest H. sapiens languages were like that, perhaps Neanderthal languages were too

    The oldest surviving human language is, of course, Welsh, which makes no use whatsoever of clicks or glottal noises (claims to the contrary are simply propaganda put about by the [Anglophone] CIA: they’re just jealous because they only speak a creole and not a real language.)

    Also, it has now been proven by fMRI that FOXP2 is Merge, so it is The Language Gene after all.

    [Strewth. Would Lanchester perpetrate this sort of thing about any other subject? And “glottal noises“? WTF? Does Lanchester make velar and alveolar noises? He caused me to make a bilabial trill noise …]

  2. David Eddyshaw : I almost love you and also envy you that I was not able to compose such a comment in such a short time. I especially liked the “bilabial trill noise”.

  3. Long ago, on sci.lang, I learned about the anal trill (no doubt a centerpiece of Neanderthal phonology).

    I like “glottal noises”. Besides the normative ɦ, they are all what actors overplaying deathly ill people would produce. Not knowing that they were actually reciting happy comical ditties in Neanderthal.

  4. cuchuflete says

    Does all this structure and learning and social context imply that they could talk?

    Why can’t this Lancaster person simply say, “Maybe. We don’t know.”

    That would save a few pixels, and the energy needed to produce them.
    Don’t write nonsense; save the planet.

  5. Stu Clayton says

    Does all this structure and learning and social context imply that they could talk?

    Mr. Lanchester himself is up to the neck in all that, but doesn’t do much more than wave his hands. On his example, we can well imagine that a group of people can get pretty far with gestures, grabbing and wordless insinuation. Even today.

    An hour ago I walked with Sparky past a reasonably hunky guy with his dog. The dogs growled a bit at each other, we both smiled – and he winked at me ! Suddenly I was sweet sixteen again, but the moment passed, for Pete’s sake.

  6. Welsh (like Basque) is a Dravidian language (though a terribly defective one), and that’s what makes these absurd claims possible.

  7. JE, your hypothesis, interesting as it is, suffers from a fatal flaw: neither Tamil nor Basque use the letter w, yet preserved in Welsh since times ancient. I dare say w might have preceded guttural noises.

  8. w

    Representing the bilabial click.

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    ʘ!ʘ

    It is not accidental that “AntC” is an exact anagram of “CIA” …

  10. Don’t wave your hands when your up to your neck, you’ll be sucked further down like an anal trill.

  11. David L says

    The thing that’s always puzzled me about Neanderthal language is the confusion over 1st and 2nd person pronouns. For example, a Cro-Magnon fellow might say, “I’m a little peckish. I would love a lightly seared buffalo steak.” Whereas a Neanderthal would say (probably bashing his club into a big rock at the same time), “Me hungry. Me want meat!”

    Perhaps there was a small typo in the FOXP2 gene that wasn’t corrected until the emergence of homo sapiens. Of course, my information comes from newspaper comic strips, which may not be wholly accurate.

  12. Not sure if anyone here has shared the classic video on neanderthal high pitch voice theory
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o589CAu73UM
    Enjoy

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    @David L:

    In your Neanderthal examples, “me” is, of course, dative. Unfortunately, the usual comic-strip transliteration simply omits all clicks and glottal noises, or at best renders them all alike as “Ug.” This inevitably obscures many distinctions of both case and aspect.

  14. It appears that Dawydd Edwyshaw is questioning my analysis. I am of course speaking historically, and the orthography is rather haphazard. There are in fact both bilabial clicks evident here, and both labio-velar clicks:

    Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch

    pw- is the voiceless bilabial click; bw- is the voiced; gw- is the voiced labio-velar; chw- is the voiceless.

    The sound-shifts since the African savannah are attributable to the permanent dampness, as exhibited by the w-‘s in these meteorological terms

    dŵr, gwlyb, glaw, niwl, cwmwl

    dw- is the voiced labio-dental click. That ‘glaw’ is poor orthography: the word is just one big click.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    In accordance with the best modern ethical practice, we have declared the Welsh language proprietary. Theories about its prehistory are now illegal unless you have obtained a valid licence. (I’m afraid this is unlikely to be granted unless you can demonstrate a genetic connection with the community.)

    q͜ǃʰəmrɨ am ɢ͜ʘɨθ

  16. David L says

    @DE: That makes sense. Writers of comic strips are Cro-Magnon or later. With some exceptions.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    No self-respecting Neanderthal would subscribe to such vile opinions. Here, we are plainly dealing, not with a Neanderthal, but with a Trilobite (and not in a good way.)

  18. jack morava says

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unfrozen_Caveman_Lawyer

    Where is Phil Hartman, now that we need him more than ever?

  19. The famous paper of 1950 by Otto Rössler (who followed Christian 1919–1920 not to mention Marcel Cohen; Rössler was soon followed by Joseph Greenberg 1952) on the verb in ‘Semitohamitic’ (cf. sharp but partially unjustified criticism by Klingenheben 1956) was among the decisive influential publications which relegated Arabic, actually Classical Arabic, to the position of ‘young Semitic’ (‘Jungsemitisch’) preceded in the relative chronology not only by Old Semitic Akkadian but also by the ‘first young Semitic stage’ (‘Frühjungsemitisch’) represented, according to Christian and Rössler (followed e.g. by Kienast 2001: 18–20), by Mehri and Geʿez.

  20. “How Conservative and How Innovating is Arabic?” in Arabic in Context. I am reading al-Jallad and van Putten to Owens (here) and Owens to al-Jallad and van Putten and I was scrolling down the book (Al-Jallad’s paper on Graeco-Arabica is there) and caught on this.

  21. For those who have never previously experienced “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer,” this particular sketch was considered at the time (by my social circle, at least) to be its apogee.

  22. John Emerson says

    The Welsh w is just a degenerate form of something or another in Tamil or maybe Basque.

  23. This is out my hands now. If either of you need a second for a duel, I’m available and accepting bids.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    The Welsh w is just a degenerate form of something or another in Tamil or maybe Basque.

    It cannot be so, as this would lead to a Grandfather Paradox. (Technically, of course, a Grandmother Paradox, on account of Grammatical Gender.*)

    * Significantly, a feature which has been lost in the Dravidian and Basque descendants of Proto-Welsh, though still present – in a modified form – in KONGO.)

  25. The other weird thing about the Lanchester comment is that he doesn’t consider what I think are more interesting implications of his thought experiment.

    Accepting for sake of argument that Neanderthals spoke poses the question of whether their language(s) were even on the same tree with those of anatomically modern humans, or whether there was a ‘virgin birth’ of speech in that lineage. To accept that Neanderthal speech could be related to modern languages, you’re actually positing that H. heidelbergensis/erectus, also could speak.

    Lanchester also writes that Neanderthals used lithic tools to cut meat by holding it in their teeth and “whacking away at it.” Wouldn’t they have used a sawing motion like normal folks? He clearly means some sort of striking motion, because he talks about disfiguring injury if they missed. And what does he mean in saying that Neanderthals were “the dominant human species” for 200,000 years? They dominated one land mass, while a different species dominated the other, no?

  26. PlasticPaddy says

    @David L
    “In late September 2021, Tina Garrison revealed that the couple had COVID-19 for several weeks, characterizing it as a “rough time”, but both refused to seek professional medical treatment or hospitalization, instead choosing to treat it with ivermectin and beetroot juice.[47]”
    Respect!

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    ivermectin and beetroot juice

    There is no evidence that this is effective in trilobites.

  28. Also, it seems to me that Neanderthal speech would not be closely related to Khoisan, but rather to Irish and German, because they’re guttural tongues.

  29. Rodger C says

    Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

    Now calling himself J. D. Vance.

  30. Author of Cavebilly Elegy

  31. January First-of-May says

    …it’s honestly surprising how neither the 2013 thread, nor (until now) the current one, had somehow never mentioned what I naively assumed was the best-known speculative example of a Neanderthal language: JBR’s Pleistocenese (previously on LH).

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    Favourite thought from that:

    The current consensus picture of our evolution features waves of increasingly human‐like species, from Homo habilis through to Homo sapiens, radiating out and supplanting the existing pre‐human populations. Some of these waves may have involved languages as well as peoples being driven to extinction. Or not – like the Manchus (in China) or the Normans (twice, first in Normandy and then in England), the invaders may have ended up adopting the local vernacular themselves. In which case, some current human languages might be descended from non‐human languages

    This obviously explains Hungarian.

  33. THE PROTO-SAPIENS PROHIBITIVE/NEGATIVE PARTICLE *MA [2020]

    We will document here an ancestral word root, which is found in such a huge number of language families across all continents that it can only be a common inheritance from the original lexicon of our remote Sapiens ancestors. Following the common linguistic custom of naming the ancestral language of a family by the name of this family with the prefix Proto- (Proto-Germanic, Proto-Algonquian, Proto-Bantu, etc.), we call the ancestral language of our species Proto-Sapiens.

    It’s pay-walled, so I can’t get beyond the Intro. Strangely, no mention of Welsh(?)

    If they were spelling it *mwa- that would be the nasal bilabial click.

    Isn’t this alleged ubiquity explainable the same way Jakobson does for “mwamwa”?

  34. I thought at first it must be a joke article, but apparently not.

  35. the nasal bilabial click
    Our noble ancestors were brilliant gurners (see especially the instructive image 3.)

  36. ktschwarz says

    THE PROTO-SAPIENS PROHIBITIVE/NEGATIVE PARTICLE *MA — lead author is Pierre Bancel, previously seen at Language Hat in 2015 proclaiming that mama/papa words are inherited from Proto-Sapiens. Definitely not joking.

  37. Re: Isn’t this alleged ubiquity explainable the same way Jakobson does for “mwamwa”?

    Isn’t “mwamwa” simply a corrupted and shortened version of ‘Oumuamua?

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    Evidently the speakers of Proto-Sapiens felt very negatively about their mothers.

    It makes me quite glad I’m not descended from them.

  39. Since they were indeed proto-, the first speaker despised their mother for being inarticulate and not very sapiēns.

  40. Yeah. I wonder what was the Proto-Sapiens for Oedipus Complex?

  41. EmilyPigeon says

    Clearly the proto-sapiens “Ma” is just short for “yo mama.”

    “Ma” in Chinese also means horse, hemp, and scold– coincidence? Ma! Our very mother tongue is scolding us for horsing around and smoking hemp. Don’t do drugs, kids!

  42. It is sometimes argued that the oldest surviving human languages are those of the Khoisan peoples in Southern Africa, which make extensive use of clicks and glottal noises.

    Actually, looking at what the most distant [from us] branch of human languages looks like makes sense when one wants to fantacize about Neanderthals.
    Multiple meanings of “old” are confused here, but the concept of “oldness” is not so easy to define.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    the most distant [from us] branch of human languages

    It doesn’t make sense at all.

    The most distant genetic lineage of human beings do not inevitably speak the most distant “branch of human languages.”

    If there ever was a “pygmy” language family, it remains as mere traces in other languages, visible only to the imaginative; the “pygmies” speak languages unproblematically related to those of their neighbours.

    There’s nothing particularly weird about the various “Khoisan” language families among the huge variety of language types spoken by humanity, apart from phonology, a feature which (as it happens) is demonstrably areal (think Southern African Bantu.)

  44. @DE, we do not know if Khoisan languages are “most distant”.

    But when you are fantacising about Neanderthals, you are not proposing a theory that hinges on a hypothesis of early branching. You are deciding for yourself at what family to look. Then Khoisan indeed looks better than Finnish. It is the farthest part of Africa.

  45. Unless you fantasize a sapiens/Neanderthal sprachbund in Eurasia.

    I don’t, particularly, but it seems as plausible as anything else. Are notions of ancestral and derived features of Khoisan and Irish relevant over the timespan of the sapiens/Neanderthal split? Even if a tree could provide evidence that clicks go back 60,000 years, which seems well beyond any analysis that could be done, why would we extend that to 600,000 years?

  46. We wouldn’t, unless we’re complete nutters.

  47. Why not? Agian, fantasizing is not the same as a theory.

    There is a tree:
    (birds (dolphins (apes (Neanderthals (X (English, Finnish))))))
    Where X is the most distantly related language.

    For someone thinking what the Neandethal languages could look like, it is natural, I think, to look at the fork “how apes communicate, how we communicate, how X communicate”. But then what is X?

  48. >unless we’re complete nutters.

    Hat, Are you saying it would be nuts to theorize a sprachbund because it’s so remote that there’s absolutely no way to assess such a theory? If so, I agree. But also agree with drasvi that fantasy is different from theory. (Though I’m not sure how birds fit into your tree diagram, D.)

    Or are you saying the sprachbund thought is nuts because it couldn’t possible have happened?

    I’d be interested to hear your reasoning.

    To me, it is interesting to consider what might have happened when anatomically modern humans first entered areas where Neanderthals lived and may have had language. Was there no period of contact – just a small number of rapes as annihilation was occurring?

    Maybe that’s right. But it also seems possible that there was a period of antagonistic coexistence. If Neanderthals spoke, that coexistence may have involved attempts to communicate. It’s hard to understand how the small amount of extant genetic mixture could have occurred without communication. Even the rape scenario has to involve the survival of the mother to childbirth, but likely also until the child reached maturity, since it’s hard to believe such children would have been fostered, in a scenario of massive instant violent death. How would she survive without the help of some group of AMH that she could communicate with?

    And it’s conceivable that such attempts to communicate might have led to the assimilation of certain phonemes to make it easier for such communication to occur, particularly if structural issues made some of the sounds from one species difficult for the other to reproduce.

    Such speculation seems… extremely speculative. But much less so than the idea that clicks survived for hundreds of thousands of years. And just kind of interesting to think through.

    At what point was a hominin so different, so archaic maybe, or just so divergent, that communication was impossible and/or interaction was limited to violence through an immediate and overwhelming othering reaction?.

  49. Hat, Are you saying it would be nuts to theorize a sprachbund because it’s so remote that there’s absolutely no way to assess such a theory? If so, I agree.

    Yes, that’s what I’m saying.

    But also agree with drasvi that fantasy is different from theory.

    Sure, I just have no interest in such fantasies. People too readily take them for serious possibilities.

  50. The present state of our knowlege of their language is “we do not know a shit about it”.

    But it does not mean that we should not think about it. After all, if there is a method that allows to learn at least something, to find this method you should think first.

    The “fork” that I described, that is, examining groups that branched off before and after N. is a good way to start thinking. Another way is learning what different systems of communications are there (which for linguists means learning more about systems other than those languages that linguistics studies, and for other people means learning about human languages). And when someone who is not a linguist starts learning this, it is good.

  51. But it does not mean that we should not think about it.

    There are an infinite number of more worthwhile things to think about. Without a time machine, we will never know anything about languages that far back. It may be fun to speculate if you’re clear that’s all you’re doing, but “someone who is not a linguist” will not know that it’s just in fun, and people are already too eager to believe in Ancient Astronauts who Built the Pyramids and suchlike.

  52. Stu Clayton says

    There are an infinite number of more worthwhile things to think about.

    It is incumbent on the thinker to present his thought in an edifying, instructive or amusing way. “But it does not mean that we should not think about it” fails to meet those criteria. It’s as flat as a flounder, stimulating no interest unless cooked properly.

  53. Now, as far as non-absurd, informed, interesting works on clicks, there’s a new paper by Hilde Gunnink, The early history of clicks in Nguni, paywalled here.

    Language contact between migrating Bantu speakers and resident Khoisan speakers has resulted in the adoption of clicks in various southern African Bantu languages. This paper uses the comparative method to show that for one particular cluster of Bantu click languages, the Nguni languages, a large number of phonemic clicks can be reconstructed to its putative ancestor Proto-Nguni, including a palatal click rarely found in Bantu languages and no longer used as such in any living Nguni language. Although clicks have undergone subsequent developments in individual Nguni languages, no new click phonemes were acquired through language contact, showing that clicks were already present very early in the history of the Nguni languages. This relative chronology provides new insights into how the relations between Bantu- and Khoisan-speaking communities in southern Africa developed over time.

    She finds that there was a proto-Nguni palatal click series, but that it merged with the dental click series everywhere except in Xhosa, where its reflex is a series of egressive palatal consonants (c, cʰ, ɟ, ɲ).

  54. Stu Clayton says

    people are already too eager to believe in Ancient Astronauts who Built the Pyramids and suchlike.

    You recently told us that dogs flew spaceships. Now Sparky believes it fervently. I hope you weren’t funnin’ us.

  55. Not at all — that part was true!

  56. Dogs fly doghouses (while wearing scarves and goggles and getting shot at). I saw pictures of it in the paper.

  57. Yes, in USSR we all knew the first dog kosmonauts, the first human kosmonaut and the first woman kosmonaut.

    (on the other hand, many of us only learned that “astronauts” landed on the Moon more than once somewhere in 2000s and were shocked).

  58. Stu Clayton says

    Dogs fly doghouses

    It’s not that no one believes anymore in métarécits. They just don’t like to admit it in public, like intending to vote for Trump.

  59. Stu Clayton says

    the first dog kosmonauts

    They suffered and died horribly, not even in order to test cosmetics for those fat-assed Kardashian ladies.

  60. Bathrobe says

    I would love to be a cross between a Denisovan and a Neanderthal. Instead I appear to be descended from a Homo sapiens influx from Western Asia.

  61. David Marjanović says

    There is a tree:

    But the tree is ultrametric – its tips are all on the same level. The same amount of evolution has happened from the last commmon ancestor to any of the tips.

    Besides, clicks look like they developed from consonant clusters at some point…

  62. Yeah, the whole idea that clicks are some sort of survival of ancient times (when dogs flew spaceships) is wishful thinking.

  63. Stu Clayton says

    Do many click-language speakers themselves believe their clicks are a survival of ancient times ? Or have speakers of non-click-languages, linguists prominent among them, transfigured clicks into a feature of the exotic past ?

  64. Why would click-language speakers have any thoughts whatever about the antiquity of some of their sounds? Does it ever occur to you to wonder whether “a” is an older sound than “z”? The whole thing is an artifact of people from Western Europe, to whom these sounds were exotic, making up stories about them (just as they made up stories about the people who used them).

  65. Stu Clayton says

    That’s what I imagined, but didn’t want to lean too far out the window. This weekend I’m brushing up on restraint and goodwill towards all. You never know when you might need them.

  66. David Eddyshaw says

    There seems to be some question of clicks being actually stigmatised in some quarters: according to Sander Steeman’s grammar of Sandawe:

    … Sandawe language and culture have little prestige outside Usandawe. Because of the presence of clicks in the language, Sandawe speakers are easily recognised outside the area. During our research, we observed that many native speakers, among each other, change to their second language, Swahili, once they are in a public space outside Usandawe.

  67. Etienne says

    Stu, Hat: I once met a native speaker of Xhosa (a charming, well-travelled, educated woman) at a social gathering, who was quite convinced that it was utterly impossible for a speaker of any language lacking clicks to properly produce a click consonant: indeed, as she told me with bold confidence, “it’s in the blood”. As evidence she pointed out that in her experience adult Westerners were quite incapable of producing click consonants, even if they had lived among Xhosa speakers for decades (she assumed, not unreasonably, that the same was true of Westerners living in Southern Africa in close contact with speakers of other click languages).

    I proved her wrong in about thirty seconds: I asked her to give the name of her mother tongue IN her mother tongue, asked her to repeat it about five times, slowly…and then proceeded to repeat it a few times, asking her afterwards if it sounded right to her ears. I had to repeat the question several times, and indeed someone else present told me later that his initial impression was that she had just had a stroke: apparently my pronunciation of the word was good enough that she was stunned utterly speechless.

    When she recovered, she basically asked me, with a mixture of fear, awe, admiration and incredulity, how I had done it (the incredulity grew exponentially when I assured her -with others present confirming- that I had never lived in, nor indeed had any special link to, Southern Africa). I told her that as a linguist who had taught phonetics (and thus knew something of how click consonants are realized) I had a bit of an advantage over other speakers of non-click languages when it came to reproducing clicks.

    She was not satisfied with that answer, and another person present at the gathering, who knew she was a big STAR WARS fan, translated my answer, after a fashion: “The study of linguistics is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural”. As a direct result I was nicknamed “Darth Etienne” for a time by several people present at that gathering…and I have used the misquotation myself (but not the nickname…) from time to time.

    (The original, for those Hatters who are not STAR WARS fans):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIHF8Xe-O6Y

  68. John Cowan says

    Jeez, Etienne. First you scare some poor fellow half to death because you can pronounce the name of his fellow-countryman accurately, having written it down in IPA (I can’t find this story, but it’s somewhere on the site), making him believe you’re from the CIA. And now this.

    But also, Xhosa is a soft target. Taa (also known as ǃXóõ) with its 84 clicks and click clusters might have proved more of a challenge. A quick look suggests that [ɴɢ*qʰ], where * is my ad hoc notation for any of a dental, alveolar, lateral, or palatal click (there are bilabial click clusters, but not this one) is probably the toughest.

  69. David Eddyshaw says

    ǃXóõ lacks really difficult consonants, like [θ], though.

    (This is because [θ] comes from the Neanderthal substratum, of course.)

  70. English [θ] was the most difficult consonant I ever had to learn to pronounce, probably, other than Bulgarian л before back vowels.

  71. David Eddyshaw says

    Incidentally, the speakers of “Khoisan” languages must have the lowest proportion of actual Neanderthal genetic heritage of pretty much anybody on the planet. It is – curious – that Lanchester blithely assumes that they are a good proxy for Neanderthals.

  72. I was a victim of such an experiment, but it was not a phonetics teacher, it was a schoolgirl. She code-switched to ideal Russian within her Arabic, exactly with the purpose of making me and my Russian friends jump. Unlike my local friends (who perform less well) she is not a Russian learner, just “spent a whole evening with Youtube”:((((

  73. “it’s in the blood”

    Angelique Kidjo (born Benin) singing Pata Pata doesn’t seem to even be trying to click — despite singing in many South African languages.

    Compare the expert. Qongqothwane

  74. David Eddyshaw says

    On the other hand, I presume that Angelique Kidjo has no trouble at all with [k͡p] and [g͡b] (which are almost as difficult as [θ], although found in more languages.)

  75. Stu Clayton says

    [k͡p] and [g͡b] (which are almost as difficult as [θ], although found in more languages.)

    Why “although”, not “therefore” ?

    There’s a suppressed premise here, something like: “people prefer, in the language they speak, sounds that are easy for them to produce”. The easier the sounds, the more widespread they should be across languages. I guess the argumentative subtlety here is in “almost as difficult”, so that one would not expect such other sounds to be quite as widespread as they are. I look forward with baited breath to the statistical analysis. Sic.

    But I leave aside for the moment the eyebrow- and manbun-raising notion itself, that people cobble their language together from third-party sounds they find easy to reproduce. Fact is, zey only zink the sounds are easy.

  76. David Eddyshaw says

    Why “although”, not “therefore” ?

    The difference is mere illusion …

  77. Stu Clayton says

    Like différance, I suppose. We are all in shallow waters, no paddle is needed.

  78. quite incapable of producing click consonants

    The hard part IME is not producing clicks per se, but incorporating them into a syllable; i.e. releasing also the back closure fast enough. Aspirated clicks as in “Xhosa” happen to be relatively easy on this, ditto nasal ones. I actually find even !Xóõ’s χ-released clicks easier than fully voiced / g-released clicks (though then have not checked in with a native speaker if I’m really outputting the former correctly…)

    manbun-raising notion

    Probably you intend to mean a condescending bowed expression, but the visual image of prehensile hair is amusing too.

  79. David Eddyshaw says

    I agree: actually making click consonants is pretty easy. They turn up all over as paralinguistic sounds. It’s using them as consonants that’s the tricky bit (unless you learnt to do so at your mother’s knee …)

  80. David Marjanović says

    English [θ] was the most difficult consonant I ever had to learn to pronounce

    That one is much easier than [ð] if you aren’t used to the very concept of voiced obstruents.

    The most difficult sounds in the French language are [b d g] for me, followed by [z ʒ]…

    …and likewise I’ve grasped the concept of nasal clicks and could talk about Nqwebasaurus all day long; but voiced nonnasal clicks? How do you even make them nonnasal? …My attempts just now ended up with implosive releases and gave me trouble breathing.

  81. David Eddyshaw says

    The most difficult sounds in the French language are [b d g]

    I think I previously recommended the excellent French gangster movie Bob le Flambeur.

    I was a little distracted from the action by continually willing the characters to say “Bob” yet one more time: three phonemes, none of them pronounced as in English “Bob.”

  82. We have that cued up on the DVR and I’m looking forward to watching it — it’s one of those movies I haven’t seen for decades. (I just watched Face/Off, which I saw when it came out; it loses something from not being seen in a packed theater, of course, but is still incredibly dumb and immensely enjoyable, with Woo, Cage, and Travolta all making fun of their own shticks.)

  83. Face/Off is not a good movie, but I respect the commitment and consistency that Cage and Travolta show in how they both play both characters.

  84. Exactly.

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