Want to hear a neanderthal say the letter "E"?

Other neanderthals would probably also like to hear that — but one researcher thinks that the average neanderthal would have a problem with that vowel. A reconstructed vocal tract indicates that there are some vowel sounds that neanderthals just couldn't say.

Robert McCarthy, an anthropology professor at Florida Atlantic University, wanted to hear a neanderthal's voice, so he made, as best as he could estimate, a neanderthal vocal tract. What he found was a surprising limitation of the neanderthal's voice. It seems that they weren't able to pronounce quantal vowels. Quantal vowels take a base sound and tune it, using the configuration of the mouth and vocal tract, to different vowel sounds. So, for example, humans can pronounce the vowel in "beat," and the vowel in "bit," differently. The neanderthal, McCarthy thinks, could not.

This would have cut them off from quite a few words that humans can pronounce, and may have limited their speech. Alternatively, it may have caused them to rely more heavily on tone, making their language more sing-song than most human languages.

McCarthy used a vocal synthesizer to simulate a neanderthal voice. If you want to hear an neanderthal pronouncing the letter "e," click here.

Top Image: James Gordon

Via FAU, New Scientist, Last Ape Standing.