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Detecting differences between the languages of Neandertals and modern humans

Roberts, S. G., Dediu, D., & Levinson, S. C. (2014). Detecting differences between the languages of Neandertals and modern humans. In E. A. Cartmill, S. G. Roberts, H. Lyn, & H. Cornish (Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference (pp. 501-502). Singapore: World Scientific.
Dediu and Levinson (2013) argue that Neandertals had essentially modern language and speech, and that they were in genetic contact with the ancestors of modern humans during our dispersal out of Africa. This raises the possibility of cultural and linguistic contact between the two human lineages. If such contact did occur, then it might have influenced the cultural evolution of the languages. Since the genetic traces of contact with Neandertals are limited to the populations outside of Africa, Dediu & Levinson predict that there may be structural differences between the present-day languages derived from languages in contact with Neanderthals, and those derived from languages that were not influenced by such contact. Since the signature of such deep contact might reside in patterns of features, they suggested that machine learning methods may be able to detect these differences. This paper attempts to test this hypothesis and to estimate particular linguistic features that are potential candidates for carrying a signature of Neandertal languages.
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