Consider the Neanderthal 1:2

The following are some musings the origins of combinatorial language, as well as my experience teaching English as a second language. 🙂

Consider the Neanderthal. He is 178cm tall and 81kg in weight, stocky and powerful, with a mane of shaggy blond hair and beard covering a long, lemon-shaped skull. Compared to the mass of his body, his brain is about the same size as that of a modern human. Although rather differently optimized.

Bevwm is a man of impeccable instinct. He can track a caribou, spear it, dress the corpse, and cook the meat, all without thinking. None of the tasks of a lone hunt require much conscious consideration. But now, Bevwm is returning to camp and he is struggling to remember his calls.

He counts them out on his fingers and toes. Vwĕĕ: There is an edible herb. Tá’: There is a flock of ducks. Āāy: Beware the hyenas. His people have thousands of such calls, but while Bevwm can remember all most common ways to point out danger and opportunity out on the tundra, he is less confident about his camp.

Camp is complicated. Camp is full of people. Broad-shouldered, heavy-browed, chinless, devious people. And the first thing they do when he returns home with his meat is to make demands of him.

“Bevwm,” he calls when the dogs start barking.

“Klèy’.” Klèy’ herself melts out of the leafy shadows. “Bevwm,” she calls, more quietly this time, and gives a growled call: “drăăw.”

Bevwm squints, remembering “drăă,” the call for finding roots that could be edible after you pound them. Also there “trăăw,” the call for packing up camp quickly because raiders are coming.

Trăăw?” he says, knuckles going white on his spear.

Klèy slashes her hands in the “no” sign and calls again. “Drăăw!” She puts down her spear so can sign as well as call, flicking fingers from her mouth to his eyes in a gesture Bevwm recognizes as teach.

Drăăw” means giving a formal lesson, he now recalls, and the thought makes Bevwm’s shoulders droop with weariness.

Holding his palms out to her, Bevwm groans on a rising, nasal tone: “Glááng?” He wants to know if he can beg out of this chore.

Klèy pounds a fist into her hand. The response is short, nasal, definite. “Fem!” Which means, he shouldn’t do what he suggested.

There’s no getting out of the chore. Bevwm is tonight’s designated teacher. He slumps under his meat and trudges home.

Part 2


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