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Manimals and Proto-Language

Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 27th, 2011

Today, a guest blog by T. Peter Park, who has been ill for some time but is back.

You might enjoy this essay I wrote just about 5 years ago, in April 2006, on the bearing of “mainstream” linguistic and palaeoanthropological theories on the possible linguistic abilities of “Bigfoot” and other cryptid “manimals” or “hairy hominids,” inspired by discussions of a Tennessee farm family who claimed to have been in communication with a local “Bigfoot” clan for some 50 or so years. It should be of interest to readers of cryptozoologists Mark A. Hall and Loren Coleman’s new book True Giants: Is Gigantopithecus Still Alive? (San Antonio & New York: Anomalist Books, 2010). I find it interesting to palaeo-linguistic speculations of Morris Swadesh, Derek Bickerton, and Merritt Ruhlen to the hominological explorations of Dmitri Bayanov, Mark Hall, Loren Coleman, and Patrick Huyghe- -April 27, 2011.

First written, Mon, 24 Apr 2006

My own biggest problem so far with Janice Carter Coy’s story of the Carter farm Bigfoot family is the claim of language for hominids that seem to anatomically resemble Gigantopithecus blacki or Paranthropus boisei, more than any known type of genus Homo, modern or prehistoric. I would have a bit less of a problem associating language with hominids resembling palaeoanthropological reconstructions of Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neandetalensis, or Homo floresiensis, i.e., with a human-habituated band of kaptar, almas, orang pendek, ebu gogo, or nuk-nuk, representatives of Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe’s “Erectus Hominid,” “Proto-Pygmy,” and “Neandertaloid” types in The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates (Anomalist Books, 2006). But with a relict Gigantopithecus or Paranthropus clan, from Coleman and Huyghe’s “Neo-Giant” or “True Giant” categories? As I wrote earlier, language use of some sort has indeed been traditionally ascribed in local folklore to Sri Lanka’s nittaewo and Flores Island’s ebu gogo, both “Proto-Pygmies” in Coleman and Huyghe’s classification.

The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates. NY: Anomalist Books, 2006. (with Patrick Huyghe).

However, be all that as it may, the likelihood is that if any “Manimals” or “Hairy Hominids” use language, it would probably be some sort of “Proto-Language,” as contrasted with fully developed language. “Proto-Language,” as used by linguists, anthropologists, and palaeontologists speculating about the origins and very early history of human language, designates a presumed primitive and rudimentary form of language, intermediate between animal grunts and cries on the one hand and fully developed human languages like Latin, Greek, English, Russian, Finnish, Estonian, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Swahili, Yoruba,
Malay, Hawaiian, Inuit (Eskimo), Navaho, Cherokee, and Lakota on the other. “Proto-Languages” in this sense consisted of a few dozen or couple of hundred basic words loosely strung together with no connectives (prepositions, conjunctions, articles, etc.) and next to no grammar or syntax. They would have closely resembled the “me Tarzan, you Jane,” “Ugg big hunter, Ugg hit Ogg head, Ogg die,” “meat bad, stomach hurt” type language stereotypically attributed to “cave-men” in science-fiction and exotic-adventure literature and movies. No normal human languages in our time have this rudimentary character–not even languages of so-called “stone age” groups like the Australian Aborigines, Southern African Khoi-San “Bushmen,” or Andaman Island Negritos. Native Australian languages, indeed, are noted for their great grammatical complexity. Native American languages, too, almost invariably show extreme grammatical complexity. However, “pidgins” used in sporadic contact situations typically have a “Proto-Language” type structure. A good description of “Proto-Language,” and its differences from fully developed language, is given by University of Hawaii linguist Derek Bickerton in Language and Species (University of
Chicago Press, 1990).

Anyway, it is widely believed by linguists, anthropologists, and palaontologists that pre-sapiens species of genus Homo, like H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, and H. neandertalensis, most likely used some form of “Proto-Language” in this sense. Fully developed language is generally believed to have first been created by our own species Homo sapiens, evolving in East Africa between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago out of H. erectus or H. heidelbergensis precursors. Homo sapiens then introduced fully developed language into the rest of the world in its “Out of Africa” migrations starting about 60,000 or 70,000 years ago. The use of fully developed language is believed to have been the main competitive advantage of Homo sapiens versus other hominid species in southern Africa and in Asia, Europe, Oceania, Australia–and maybe also the Americas. The greater scope for social cooperation, cultural advance, and technological innovation conferred by fully developed language helped Homo sapiens to displace and virtually eliminate hominids restricted to using “Proto-Language,”reducing them to small relict groups of Bigfoot, Yeti, kaptar, almas, orang pendek, ebu gogo, and the like hiding out in remote corners of a H. sapiens dominated planet.

Linguists and palaeoanthropologists have also become increasingly sympathetic in recent decades to the view that all known modern and historically recorded languages are descended from a single “Proto-World,” “Proto-sapiens,” or “Mother Tongue” spoken by the first “Out of Africa” Homo sapiens migrants 60,000 or 70,000 years ago. “Proto-World” is considered the common ancestor alike of Native American, Australian Aboriginal, Andamanese Negrito, and Khoi-San “Bushman” languages, as well as of languages like English, Russian, Arabic, Swahili, Yoruba, Chinese, and Japanese. As Homo sapiens had almost certainly already developed a fully developed “modern” language by the time they started leaving East Africa to overrun the rest of the world 60,000 or 70,000 years ago, naturally, all the subsequent descendants of “Proto-World” would be fully developed languages in the modern sense–including the languages of “stone age” groups like the Australian Aboriginese, Andamanese Negritos, and Khoi-San “Bushmen.” Their vocabularies, too, would reflect many still recognizable “Proto-World” words. Representative “Mother Tongue” words still recognizable in modern languages all over our planet include KU or KUN “who?,” MI or MIN “what?,” AQWA “water,” KUNA or KWENA “woman, wife” KUAN or KWINYA “dog, wolf,” MENA “think, feel, like, love, practice magic,” MANA “stay, remain,” KWEL or GWEN “neck, throat, swallow,” PUR “fly, feather, wing,” TIK “hand, finger, pointing, one, five, ten,” and PEL or PEN “two, pair, couple, half, side.” A good recent overview of the “Proto-World” or “Mother Tongue” hypothesis was given by Stanford University linguist Merritt Ruhlen in his two 1994 books, the semi-popular The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue (New York: John Wiley and Sons) and his similarly titled but much more technical On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy (Stanford University Press). However, a couple of still interesting early works in the same vein include Alfredo Trombetti’s L’Unità d’origine del linguaggio (Bologna, 1905) and Morris Swadesh’s The Origin and Diversification of Language
(Chicago & New York, 1971).

However, all of these “Mother Tongue” words just cited were originally the local regional words of a small population in what is now Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania 60,000 or 70,000 years ago. It would thus be not at all surprising if relict hominid groups using “Proto-Languages” as described by Derek Bickerton had words for basic concepts quite different from those of “Proto-World.” If Jane Carter Coy’s Bigfoot vocabulary bore no discernible similarity to the “Mother Tongue” reconstructed by linguists like Alfredo Trombetti, Morris Swadesh, Vitaly Shevoroshkin, Joseph Greenberg, and Merritt Ruhlen, that
would not itself invalidate her list! If Bigfoot indeed spoke a “Proto-Language” as defined by Bickerton, it could well have been locally well-established in North America a couple of hundred thousand years before the comparatively Johnny-come-lately “Out of Africa” emergence of the Homo sapiens “Mother Tongue” a “mere” 60,000 or 70,000 years ago!

This, of course, this still leaves the possibility of ancient Homo sapiens/”Manimal” linguistic contacts in the Americas in the last few thousand years. Early Native Americans might have borrowed some Bigfoot words from their big, hairy neighbors–and ancient Bigfoot may have similarly borrowed some Native American words and phrases. The same may well have taken place in other parts of the world as well. Thus, the Crô-Magnons may well have borrowed some Neandertal “Proto-Language” words and phrases 35,000 years ago and incorporated them into the earliest Homo sapiens languages of Western Europe. It is possible that some modern Basque, French, German, English, Welsh, or Gaelic words for “ghost,” “witch,” or “ogre” may ultimately reflect Neandertal words for “mammoth,” “cave bear,” “woolly rhinoceros,” or “shaman’! Similarly, many modern East and Southeast Asian languages may still preserve words ultimately of “Peking Man” or “Java Man” origin. Might, say, a Vietnamese , Thai, or Indonesian word for “dragon” ultimately reflect a
“Java Man” word for “crocodile” or “giant monitor lizard”? Likewise Southern Africa’s Khoi-San “Bushman” and “Hottentot” languages may still preserve words borrowed from the somewhat Neandertal-like Homo rhodesiensis. Could even the celebrated Khoi-San “click” sounds themselves be a Homo rhodesiensis borrowing?

Plus, of course, there also still remains the possibility that, even if Janice Carter Coy is “on the level,” her friendly neighborhood Bigfoot family might actually have spoken a “pidginized” form of a Native American language! Maybe the Bigfoot weren’t quite “smart enough” to invent a language all on their own–but, they might still have been “smart enough” to notice the advantage conferred by language on the Indians, and to have picked up simplified versions of one or several Indian languages for their own use!This may well have initially taken place on the West Coast, Rockies, and western Great Plains, and spread by “cultural diffusion” to Bigfoot bands and clans further east! If this is true, there would naturally be nothing all that strange in Tennessee Bigfoot using words of ultimately mostly Kwakiutl, Kalispel, Nez Percé, Yakima, or Lakota rather than Cherokee or Shawnee origin! As I wrote earlier, all this has Homo sapiens linguistic parallels–e.g., the use of their full-sized neighbors’ Bantu languages by African Pygmy groups who presumably originally spoke languages almost as different from Bantu as the Khoi-San languages! I still maintain that it might be interesting if some specialists on Native American languages examined Ms. Coy’s Bigfoot wordlist.

The growling, guttural, not-quite-human quality of Bigfoot speech, even when speaking English, recalls the suggestion of many linguists and palaeoanthropologists, including Derek Bickerton and Philip Lieberman, about Homo erectus and Neandertal speech. The reconstructed vocal tracts of pre-sapiens species of Homo were indeed somewhat “cruder” for producing fully human speech than our own–but could have still sort of “done the job” in a crude, rough-and-ready way! Yes, Philip Lieberman and Derek Bickerton would have had no serious quarrel with Janice Carter Coy’s description of the way the Carter farm’s Bigfoot guests talked and sounded!

Of course, maybe all that this really shows is that Ms. Coy was very much “up” on all the possibly relevant linguistic, palaeoanthropological, and hominological literature when she concocted her hoax! How many linguistics, palaeoanthropology, and Bigfoot/Yeti books does she own or has she checked out from her library?

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

3 Responses to “Manimals and Proto-Language”

  1. sasquatch responds:

    Reminds me of this encounter.

  2. airforce47 responds:


    Another very good post from Loren and a very good post by our guest blogger T. Peter Park. For those of you who aren’t aware of his credentials, here is a short bio.

    It’s quite possible our hairy friends have a proto language with some words adopted from us. There are several reports of them using language such as the “Sierra Sounds” still under analysis by Nelson.

    It will require close observation of the species which until now has been impossible to ascertain their language ability. They have this habit of intimidating humans to leave their vicinity when we get to close. Perhaps this will change in the future but for now anything within reason is possible.

    My best

  3. Storfot responds:

    Well, as long as an utterance signifies something (the signified) it might be reasonable to call it a proto-language.

    I personally believe such “primitive” languages would be very onomatopoetic where the connection between the signifier and the signified are very motivated.

    Some of our words (indo European descendants) are interesting. For example, Large vs tiny. /a/ in large is very open and /i/ in tiny is closed when you pronunce it. Laaaaaaaarge and tiiiiiiiiny. Same goes with huge and little.

    The utterance that signifies the concept of large is made up of a large vowel and tiny is made up of a small vowel. Interesting, I have to think about it and see if these kinds of words might have been onomatopoetic in the beginning (the etymology will probably show the same relation between the pronunciation of the vowel and what it represents).

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