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July 30, 2009 5:54 AM   Subscribe

Twilight of the Neandertals - "Some 28,000 years ago in what is now the British territory of Gibraltar, a group of Neandertals eked out a living along the rocky Mediterranean coast. They were quite possibly the last of their kind [meanwhile] around 30,000 years ago, the number of modern humans who lived to be old enough to be grandparents began to skyrocket." (via)

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-Logarithmic timeline of the universe
-Timeline of knowledge-representation
-Homo sapiens to 10,000 BC
-The Economic History of the Entire World
-Cruel Windfall: How Wars, Plagues, and Urban Disease Propelled Europe's Rise to Riches
-Slouching Towards Utopia: Twentieth Century Economic History
posted by kliuless (44 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
WE'RE! NUMBER! ONE! WE'RE! NUMBER! ONE!

In your face, extinct human species!
posted by Flunkie at 6:08 AM on July 30, 2009


Neanderthal can be spelled with or without the H.

Not that it matter since no Neanderthals are around to complain.

Except maybe football hooligans.
posted by bwg at 6:17 AM on July 30, 2009


... matters ...
posted by bwg at 6:17 AM on July 30, 2009


Hmm, not nearly enough speculation on whether we just ate them or not.
posted by ijsbrand at 6:37 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Damn. On first skim of the FPP, I thought this would be about prehistoric tween vampire novels.
posted by olinerd at 6:58 AM on July 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


ijsbrand, you are my kind of anthropologist.
posted by Neofelis at 7:01 AM on July 30, 2009


This just in: Neanderthals did not nap.

Coincidence?
posted by Danf at 7:38 AM on July 30, 2009


Deine Lieblingsrechtschreibung ist Scheiß.
posted by oaf at 7:56 AM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


You wouldn't nap either, if there was a pack of Neanderthal-eating homo sapiens hanging around outside your cave!
posted by jamstigator at 7:57 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


A lot of German words that used to be spelled (pointlessly) with th are now spelled with t: this site gives the examples Thür>Tür, Wirth>Wirt. Thal 'valley' > Tal is another one.
posted by languagehat at 8:24 AM on July 30, 2009


It's only the Brits who have clung to the archaeic spelling Neaderthal. Whilst Germans and the rest of the world spell it Neandertal.
posted by charlesminus at 8:35 AM on July 30, 2009


Naderthal?
posted by sciurus at 8:59 AM on July 30, 2009


Naderthral?!
posted by sciurus at 8:59 AM on July 30, 2009


This is a terrific post, thanks for all the info! Reading through the links it is hammered home to me just how deeply magical thinking must run for one to sincerely believe this is all only 6000 years old. What magnificent, collaborative work science is.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:08 AM on July 30, 2009


> It's only the Brits who have clung to the archaeic spelling Neaderthal. Whilst Germans and the rest of the world spell it Neandertal.

I spell it Neaderthal, and I am not a Brit. Wikipedia spells it that way, as does Merriam-Webster. Furthermore, the Russians spell it Неандерталец, the Chinese 尼安德特人, the Japanese ネアンデルタール人, the Koreans 네안데르탈인, Hindi speakers निअंडरथल, and the Arabs نياندرتال. But hey, keep on believing that the world does things the way you prefer, I'm sure you're a happier person for it.
posted by languagehat at 9:44 AM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Er, I spell it Neanderthal; I lazily copied your misspelling. (Which is pretty ironic from someone bitching about other people spelling things wrong.)
posted by languagehat at 9:46 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has there been any Sci-fi movies about if we lived side-by-side and ended up using Neanderthals as slaves?
posted by wcfields at 9:50 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fun article. This is the part I like best:

The claim that Neandertals lacked language, too, seems unlikely in light of recent discoveries.

The evidence is very indirect, but if it's true it fascinates me. Because last I checked, most linguistics think that human speech originated once and spread out along with the population. (Unlike writing, which originated separately at least 10 times). The idea that a whole separate species may also have had linguistic ability is awesome. And given the later proximity it's not hard to imagine some cross-species communication.

(Also Metafilter: the place to discuss the spelling of a word rather than the linked article.)
posted by Nelson at 9:50 AM on July 30, 2009


The idea that a whole separate species may also have had linguistic ability is awesome.

Or perhaps sang: "Until the relatively recent advent of syntactic language in modern humans, Mithen maintains, it was music that helped hominids find a mate, soothe a child, cheer a companion or provide a group’s social glue."
posted by LooseFilter at 10:00 AM on July 30, 2009


Neandertal looks and sounds ridiculous. It's Neanderthal, and the other spelling is simply unacceptable. Don't get me started on Crow-Magnon.
posted by jeremy b at 10:21 AM on July 30, 2009


If I had to guess, I would imagine that the spelling is drifting towards Neandertal because that's how it's pronounced.

People have been mispronouncing that word forever.
posted by keep_evolving at 10:39 AM on July 30, 2009


bwg: "Neanderthal can be spelled with or without the H.

Not that it matter since no Neanderthals are around to complain.

Except maybe football hooligans.
"

It's 'ooligans, mate.
posted by symbioid at 10:48 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The H is silent, just like the neanderthals are now.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:31 AM on July 30, 2009


I'm sure the first horny Neanderthal man to meet a hot Cro-Magnon woman bridged the communication gap quite quickly. Point to his own penis, point to her vagina, wink and look sly. Bam, communication!
posted by jamstigator at 11:33 AM on July 30, 2009


You have an optimistically consensual view of protohuman sexual relations.
posted by Nelson at 11:44 AM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, can't resist....

Metafilter: You have an optimistically consensual view of protohuman sexual relations.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:06 PM on July 30, 2009


"Until the relatively recent advent of syntactic language in modern humans, Mithen maintains, it was music that helped hominids find a mate, soothe a child, cheer a companion or provide a group’s social glue."

HUGH: You will expect me to accept a notion that Neanderthal man found a method of making music out of minerals?
HOWARD: I believe I can prove that actual melodies, crude, of course, but melodies, based on the diatonic scale similar to the Norse Ventengum chants...
JUDY: I love those Ventengums.
HOWARD: ...really existed as far back as 7 million B.C.
LARRABEE: You can prove this?
HOWARD: Given the time, and the money, of course.
HUGH: But really, music from rocks?
JUDY: It so happens, Mr. Simon, that Howard had discussions with Leonard Bernstein about the possibility of conducting an avalanche in E flat.
-- What's Up, Doc?


If I had to guess, I would imagine that the spelling is drifting towards Neandertal because that's how it's pronounced.

Well, pretty much. The spelling -thal was deprecated in favor of -tal by the German spelling reform of 1901, presumably reflecting actual rather than historical usage. But by then, the name Neanderthal Man had been established for nearly half a century, and the -th- remains in the scientific terminology such as homo sapiens neanderthalensis. (Interestingly, though, the name "Neanderthal" itself was quite recent at the time of discovery, and in fact is an amalgam reflecting a modern-era German pastor who went by the Greek translation of his name Neumann. Linguistically, there's nothing simple here.)

I believe that while I was growing up, -thal was the dominant American pronunciation. Scientific usage has tended toward -tal for a long time, and is gaining. But in American English, loan words often tend to get either mangled completely (lingerie) or slavishly pronounced as they are spelled (forte).
posted by dhartung at 2:14 PM on July 30, 2009


> I believe that while I was growing up, -thal was the dominant American pronunciation.

It still is.

> slavishly pronounced as they are spelled (forte).

This makes no sense. Both sides in the "forte" controversy would claim they are pronouncing it as it is spelled, and if your "slavishly" implies there is some "correct" way to pronounce it, you're wrong.
posted by languagehat at 2:30 PM on July 30, 2009


It's 'ooligans, mate.

"Hooligans, ruffians ... speak English. It's Crip, Blood."

Thank you, Bill Hicks.
posted by bwg at 4:22 PM on July 30, 2009


It's 'ooligans, mate.

Ugh, we have to drop that "h" too!?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:24 PM on July 30, 2009


the Koreans [spell it] 네안데르탈인

Heh. That reads more-or less-phonetically neandertalin, where -in is the particle that means 'person', but it makes me think of neanderthalin', as in, "Man, I necked so many beers last night I was totally neanderthalin'!"

Which amuses me.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:34 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


languagehat, sheesh, it was a "how did we get here?" post, not pedantry. With "Neanderthal", the spelling and pronunciation are likely to retain the th for a long time yet, no matter what Scientific American chooses as a house style. With "forte", I have no illusions about the correctness aspect (correct is being understood), but it is a kind of hypercorrection and therefore about someone puzzling out the word before them Hooked-on-Phonics style rather than actually knowing how it was pronounced by the folks who loaned it to us shiny and new. In other words, it's the falsity of intention that bugs me here, in contrast to words like coupe or brassiere or naive without the ï or even hors d'œuvre (which is certainly no worse a mangling than comfortable or Wednesday). That's partly because it's such a middlebrow word to begin with. The people who use it know it's foreign, and thus make sure to give it a spurious foreign pronunciation. That's as valid as any other way that words evolve, but it's ... galling, one might say. Gauche.
posted by dhartung at 1:23 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Well, pretty much. The spelling -thal was deprecated in favor of -tal by the German
> spelling reform of 1901, presumably reflecting actual rather than historical usage.

neanderthal Results 1 - 30 of about 1,680,000.

neandertal Results 1 - 10 of about 735,000. Did you mean neanderthal?

Oh, and

Maria Theresa thaler Results 1 - 10 of about 6,650.

Maria Theresa taler Results 1 - 10 of about 2,500. Did you mean maria theresa thaler?

At this point us historically sensitive prescriptivists are winning (rather decisively) on current usage also.
posted by jfuller at 8:47 AM on July 31, 2009


the Russians spell it Неандерталец ... But hey, keep on believing that the world does things the way you prefer, I'm sure you're a happier person for it.
languagehat, this level of pedantry is unbecoming, particularly given that the transliteration of the Russian (and the Korean) simply reinforces charlesminus's point rather than contradicts it.
posted by deanc at 10:11 AM on July 31, 2009


> languagehat, sheesh, it was a "how did we get here?" post, not pedantry.

Well, fair enough, and I may have been a tad acerbic in my response, but you have to realize how sick I am of the whole "forte" debate.

> it is a kind of hypercorrection and therefore about someone puzzling out the word before them Hooked-on-Phonics style rather than actually knowing how it was pronounced by the folks who loaned it to us shiny and new. In other words, it's the falsity of intention that bugs me here, in contrast to words like coupe or brassiere or naive without the ï or even hors d'œuvre (which is certainly no worse a mangling than comfortable or Wednesday). That's partly because it's such a middlebrow word to begin with. The people who use it know it's foreign, and thus make sure to give it a spurious foreign pronunciation. That's as valid as any other way that words evolve, but it's ... galling, one might say. Gauche.

...And, see, this is exactly the kind of thing I'm trying to combat. How exactly do you think it was pronounced by "the folks who loaned it to us shiny and new"? What folks do you think those were? There is no word forte with this meaning in French; the French say "(son) fort," where it is pronounced /for/, which as far as I know no one advocates for English. So all pronunciations are "spurious," and the idea that one pronunciation is OK and the other is spurious is ... galling, one might say. Gauche.

> languagehat, this level of pedantry is unbecoming, particularly given that the transliteration of the Russian (and the Korean) simply reinforces charlesminus's point rather than contradicts it.

Don't be ridiculous. His point—that "It's only the Brits who have clung to the archaeic [sic] spelling Neaderthal [sic]" (in case your memory needs refreshing)—is completely wrong, and it is not pedantry to point it out. And I have no idea what you mean about "the [sic] transliteration of the Russian (and the Korean)"; there is no one transliteration of either language, transliteration meaning simply a respelling of a word into a different spelling system in whatever way you prefer, and the point is that neither those people nor any of the others I mentioned spell it Neaderthal, or even Neanderthal. Is that really such a difficult concept?
posted by languagehat at 10:42 AM on July 31, 2009


Aargh! For "Neaderthal, or even Neanderthal" read "Neandertal." Sorry about that.
posted by languagehat at 10:43 AM on July 31, 2009


but it's ... galling, one might say. Gauche.

Or dare I say....Gaulling?
posted by LooseFilter at 12:11 PM on July 31, 2009


languagehat: A lot of German words that used to be spelled (pointlessly) with th are now spelled with t: this site gives the examples Thür>Tür, Wirth>Wirt. Thal 'valley' > Tal is another one.

Actually, not so pointlessly at all. The "th" in "Thal" used to be an aspirated "t". In fact, the German "t" is still a bit aspirated. It has nothing to do with an English "th" though, of course.

Incidentally, it always struck me as a bit odd that the ethymology of the "Neander" bit stems from "new man" (in Greek).
posted by sour cream at 12:38 PM on July 31, 2009


> Actually, not so pointlessly at all.

Actually, yes pointlessly. The German "t" is exactly as aspirated as it used to be, and that's not why the h was there.
posted by languagehat at 3:02 PM on July 31, 2009


Or dare I say....Gaulling?

Aw. You noticed!

sour cream: Neander was the adopted Greek style of a person named Neumann, after whom the valley was renamed in modern times (possibly as late as the 19th century; the name is not attested much prior to the archaeological discovery). It is indeed an odd coincidence.

langaugehat: I accept that you view the English word forte as a sort of coinage rather than a loan word. As such, any pronunciation is valid. I stand by my view that the pronunciation is, as often as not, an insistence on evoking the word's foreign (and therefore presumptively highbrow) origins. But I was not bringing it up in order to yank your chain. It was just an example.
posted by dhartung at 1:52 AM on August 1, 2009


languagehat: The German "t" is exactly as aspirated as it used to be, and that's not why the h was there.

Huh? I thought that that is precisely why the h was there. The h was (is) audible and was therefore spelled out. Pretty straightforward. What is your explanation why the h was there?

I agree that the h is not distinctive, i.e. there's no perceived difference between (phonetic) t and th as there is in Thai for example. Thus, getting rid of the h simply removed redundant information.

Whether it used to be aspirated more strongly a few hundred years back is largely speculation. I thought I heard the theory once that the fact that they bothered to write it down points to a stronger aspiration, but I might be mistaken on this.
posted by sour cream at 2:30 AM on August 1, 2009


languagehat, this level of pedantry is unbecoming, particularly given that the transliteration of the Russian (and the Korean) simply reinforces charlesminus's point rather than contradicts it.

I'll remember that next time I go to the teatr.
posted by oaf at 8:37 AM on August 1, 2009


Seafood gave us the edge on the Neanderthals
posted by homunculus at 2:46 PM on August 13, 2009


Using Korean hangeulization and pronunciation of non-Korean words to make any point -- except one about the limitations of that alphabet in representing sounds from other languages -- is not advisable.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:09 PM on August 14, 2009


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