1. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Writing the thoughts and speech of a Neanderthal child

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Brigid, Jul 10, 2020.

    Hi dear writers,

    I hope you are all well.

    As first it sounded easy with my idea of writing about a Neanderthal kid but it isn't. It is a time-travelling story where he meets modern children.

    He learned some English but how can I make it sound a bit broken?

    And even more important, how to describe his thoughts. Should I describe these broken too or how the other children are thinking?

    Any advice?

    Please stay all healthy!
     
  2. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Apparently it's uncertain if Neanderthals had speech or not, but I found this article that offers some fossil evidence that they might have as well as some possibly helpful tips as to how they might sound:

     
  3. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Thanks for you response. Your research is quite interesting.

    But even more important than a Neanderthal spoke, how to describe his thoughts? Should I describe these broken too or how is he fluent in this toughts as the other children when they are thinking?
     
  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I would say no to making his thoughts "broken." You might include things like him not being able to learn to read at all due to not having the appropriate brain structure (I'm totally spitballing here, no research done at all into that) but I think even a mouse or a bird thinks fluidly about things they can understand.
     
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  5. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    Look into primitive people who haven't had much contact with the modern world and weren't educated in modern schools. As I understand it without the benefits of such an education or being around people who have that kind of education their thinking would be only dimly conscious. Primitives and children are half lost in the unconscious, in dreamlike ideas. A lot of magical thinking, not capable of real objective thought (which we didn't acquire until after science became a thing). Totally subjective and would probably possess an Animist belief system, which was apparently the first religion. The belief that every thing has it's own spirit—every tree, rock, blade of grass, cloud etc, and that you must ask the spirit of an animal for permission before hunting it for instance, or a stream before using water from it. They would thank the sun for shining on them, or ask the rain to stop if they wanted it to (though it might not occur to them that rain is bad, they might just accept it as a fact of life the way animals do).

    They would probably also have a lot of very simplistic beliefs like we used to, such as that insects are just born spontaneously form piles of garbage, or that we can see because some kind of invisible rays come out of our eyes (rather than because light rays reflect into them from outside). Or maybe they haven't even reached that level of theorizing yet.

    I believe neanderthals used to practice trepanning (cutting away a section of the skull to release evil spirits from inside the head). I mention this just to give you a direction for research.

    I also understand they would hunt in small bands and not cooperate very well. That's one of the reasons the Cro-Magnon succeeded them, because the Cro-Mags worked in larger groups and cooperated much better—they had better social networking and skills. Also Neanderthal stone working etc didn't change for many millennia, but Cro-Magnon were innovators and would find new ways to solve problems. This suggests some things about how they used to think and behave. Hidebound traditionalists I would say.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2020
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  6. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Hi Iain, yes, thanks, it makes sense.
     
  7. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Great input, Xoic. And great pointers. What do you think of describing his speech broken (it is fiction not a scientific work as it is not known if Neanderthals spoke at all) but his thoughts fluently, but within his very simplistic belief system?
     
  8. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Though I rarely disagree with you, on this particular note, I must.

    Homo sapiens don't have specific structures in our brains for reading either, really. We make use of preexisting networks because the paradigmatic difference between spoken and written language is that the spoken word is not an invention - it's a feature of our species, just like a hand or a liver. We are - by definition - the animal that talks.

    Written language, though, is something completely different and is most certainly an invention, an artifact of man, not a feature.

    My money's on the idea that your Neanderthal character should be able to read. They're much closer to us than other antecedent species that do also show signs of possessing Broca and Wernicke Areas and the angular gyrus, the speech centers of the brain.

    Just me barging in, but I wouldn't make it randomly broken. We actually do have very good evidence in the form of artifacts for which the creation of them would have required the passing of intricate, abstract data, and the areas of the brain associated with speech predate the Neanderthals by quite a bit.

    Instead, my advice is to give the character a particular steady speech pattern. Perhaps his brain handles verbs differently or doesn't seperate the redness of an apple from the appleness of an apple. Give the character his/her own way of engaging, not just a randomly broken way.
     
  9. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    In his own language fluid, but for trying to speak English as he's learning it, certainly broken and interspersed with snatches of his own language. Modern humans speak broken English if they're just trying to learn it. Of course we have no idea what Neanderthal language would have been like (and like us, they would speak different languages in different areas), but think about the way people fracture English while learning it. For instance, Russians tend to drop off little connecting words like a, an, the, etc—"I go to store and buy sandwich." And I'm not sure who does this, it might be British or some Europeans, but they'll reverse certain words, for instance they'll say "standing on line" and "watching a program in TV" (Yeah, I think that's a British thing). Is that called syntax? The way sentence structure is used in different languages? I don't know.
     
  10. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Senior Member

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  11. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    You could also look into feral people, raised by animals. That's not quite what a Neanderthal would be, but it will show you how much of being human is tied in to education, meaning not just school but beginning from birth by seeing how the people around them behave and interact. If a human child grows to a certain age without the support and teaching of other educated humans, there's no hope for them. They'll react like animals all their lives and bite and scratch savagely at anyone who tries to help them. One very interesting example was Helen Keller. Not raised by animals, but raised almost without language (which is the deciding factor, or a big part of it). She apparently had learned one word in childhood, and that allowed her to be much more human than a feral child would be. As a result she was able to learn language later in life.

    Here's an article about feral children and how it affects their minds: You could be a wolf, a human, or a star

    Of course your Neanderthal boy wouldn't be like them, this is just to demonstrate the absolute importance of language on the development of a human being, as well as of having a family and society that shows them how to live. I think he would be about halfway between a wolf boy and a modern human child.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2020
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  12. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Despite our allegedly common (and oh-so-common they were) origins I have no problem in deferring to you on matters linguistic. My suggestion was a combination of my surprise at how little we actually know about our extinct cousins, with their built-in sunvisors and prothagonilicious jawlines, and my white-hot and eternal hatred for Arrival and its rampant, 23 cm long (citation needed) Sapir-Whorfism.
     
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  13. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Have I ever related to you that I have a pronounced occipital bun, a feature that is almost diagnostic with respect to Neanderthal cranial-skeletal morphology. The physical anthro prof for whom I TA'd over a few semesters would use me as a prop in class. :bigmeh:
     
  14. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Okay pleistocener..... :)
     
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  15. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    "Wrey, would you scamper on over here, attempt to stand as erect as possible, and hand out these worksheets?" *Gives him a pat on the occipital bun*
     
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  16. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    This thread has brought me to the conclusion that being a highly intelligent liguophile (if that's the right word, apparently not according to spellcheck) is like being a highly functioning alcoholic. Nobody else understands what the hell they're talking about, but it sure does seem vitally important and fascinating to them! :supergrin:

    Who was it that said something to the effect that learning strange things ends up making you a stranger? Trust me, I know about that one! Well do I remember my early days in here, babbling on and on about the unconscious and psychology and philosophy, getting nary a like or even a comment. I finally had to abandon that stuff and fall into the Lounge, gathering substitute social interaction in the form of comments and Likes for making silly juvenile jokes. :cool:
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2020
  17. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    BTW, and just as an additional tidbit...

    There is some small evidence with respect to gender groupings of Neanderthal archaeological sites that have given rise to the idea that perhaps they didn't live in family units the way we do, but grouped themselves along different lines with some form of sexual division. Think elephants that live in bands of related females and their offspring, with adult males living either solitary or in bachelor herds.

    It's not considered a very robust theory given the scanty and circumstantial evidence, but Robert J. Sawyer latched onto and expanded it in his Neanderthal Parallax novels.

    Long story short:

    Pontor is a Neanderthal experimental physicist who lives in a different version of the multiverse. A freak accident at his worksite happens simultaneously in our universe at the same site operated by homo sapiens.

    Pontor is shunted into our world and thus his adventure begins.

    We learn that Pontor has both a husband and a wife and that this arrangement is very much the norm. He lives most of the time with his hubby out in their equivalent of the burbs, and goes to see his wife (also a respected scientist) in the metro area only during mating season.

    Equally, his wife has a wife with whom she spends most of her time, etc. etc. etc.

    Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 12.38.24 PM.png
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
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  18. making tracks

    making tracks Active Member

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    I'm sorry if I've just misunderstood you, but I have to say, using 'primitive people' in this sense may be a trope but it's a bad one and unfounded. It's also pretty old-fashioned. Believing people who have not had contact with modern western communities to be only 'dimly conscious' is a very Colonial way of thinking and very reductive. Other people's education, culture and belief systems might be vastly different from us, but it doesn't make them less human. Religious beliefs such as animism have as much basis to them as any religion does to any one else.

    Sorry if I have just misinterpreted what you were saying! I just wanted to make it clear that not conforming to modern Western ideals doesn't make people less complex.

    And in reply to @Brigid, a vast amount of learning is done by humans before the age of two - a lot of pathways in the brain are formed in this time which set a baseline for future learning (as in how we learn - e.g. if we hear two languages spoken from birth becoming bilingual will be easier than for those who have only heard one). This isn't to say new things can't be learned later in life, but it does make it harder to do so.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
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  19. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    @making tracks You might be right. I might have been conflating 2 different ideas. I know in many ways the thinking of primitive people is supposedly similar to that of children, and that children exist in a largely unconscious state for the first several years. But I think this has to do with language. My understanding is that language largely creates the conscious experience, without it we can't focus our thoughts and develop the sense of self. And of course primitive people do use language. But I think their understanding of the world is very undeveloped. They'll have a lot of superstitious and magical beliefs and won't be capable of true objectivity (or what passes for it, since nobody can ever truly be objective).

    Maybe unconscious is the wrong term. I meant that much of life is experienced in dreamlike ways, and i think that's true for people with magical and superstitious beliefs. But maybe I should say it differently, that their vision of the world and their place in it is very clouded in the ways that a child's is. I don't mean that they're stupid, but they lack education to understand many things we do. People haven't gotten any smarter in many thousands of years, our understanding of certain things has just improved and our technology. But if a person hears a radio and believes it has spirits in it that he can communicate with, I think that's a rather dreamlike interpretation, and unconscious might be the appropriate word. Consciousness is focus, and magical thinking is very unfocused and doesn't allow for a lot of clarity. But I suppose it's complicated—in certain ways their experience of the world is very dreamlike compared to ours, but they do have a complex language that allows them to focus thoughts and develop the clear and distinct sense of self.

    Of course I'm no expert. I know only a few things I've read on the subject. But I have repeatedly read in psychological texts that the primitive mind bears certain striking similarities with that of children. And also that a society going through the stages of development from very primitive to modern Western level of civilization very closely parallels the development of an individual's mind from childhood through adulthood (assuming that person lives in the modern world). I should admit here that much of the psychology I read is the original, written by Jung and etc, though some of it is by more recent authors. But come to think of it, that's not where these ideas come from, they're from much more recent authors.

    But I also write here in the sense of expressing things in simple, understandable ways that can be useful to a writer, rather than trying to capture all the subtle nuance. Plus admittedly my own understanding is not complete, especially on certain subjects. Thank you for bringing some greater clarity to this.

    I also want to add that Animism is actually a very primitive belif system, very much like something a small child would invent. They do talk to objects and apparently carry on conversations with them, which only a few adults do, and those are the ones we avoid on the bus if possible. :superwink:Other religions are far more advanced and sophisticated.

    But also, saying that something is very 'Colonial' marks it as a very Postmodernist way of looking at things. The truth is somewhere in between.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
  20. making tracks

    making tracks Active Member

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    Thank you for such a level reply, it's nice to be able to discuss things! It's great that you've done some wider reading and are getting involved in it. I appreciate that you want to give an overview in the interest of writing, but I feel if someone is going to propagate this trope they should be aware of some of the history and misconceptions behind it.

    I have a university degree in Anthropology (which I'm only mentioning so you can understand where I'm coming from) - even the term 'primitive' isn't really used any more due to the implications that it is attached to lower forms of life (although it is still sometimes used in pop culture). Also, animistic belief systems are far, far more complex than simply talking to rocks. There are many different versions of them in different cultures, and are based upon beliefs and teachings passed down through generations, often in oral traditions. They involve rules of conduct and social orders and often involve incredibly detailed knowledge of eco-systems and the natural areas.

    Western religions seem normal to us because we grow up with them. I mean no disrespect to anybody here who is religious, but if there was an outsider who had never had any contact with Christianity, talking to a God you can't see and hear a physical response to through prayer, eating bread and drinking wine as symbolic of consuming your Saviour's flesh and blood wouldn't necessarily make sense to them either. They are normal to us because that's what we've grown up with.

    I would also disagree that thinking about the world around you in terms of spirits rather than science means you're childlike. I think that implies people haven't learnt new things as they've grown up or gained more knowledge, - things which aren't only tied to these sorts of beliefs. Besides, lots of people even in the West believe in ghosts and superstitions. I think I get what you're trying to say, and education systems might be vastly different, but I think part of the reason it might sound childlike is that we forget how much stuff in our own culture would sound bizarre to others, and smaller cultures are often misunderstood or simplified when being reported on.

    I agree that how people think is fascinating. I remember reading a thread on Reddit where people were discussing whether or not they had an internal monologue. Personally I can't conceive of how I'd think without one! A few anthropological studies have focussed on different thought processes, for instance some cultures categorise colours differently and their colour palettes are different as a result. How different cultures use symbols and idioms and language is a huge debate - whether different world views shape their language differently or vice versa, or both! The Hopi time controversy ( h//en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopi_time_controversy#:~:text=Whorf%20argued%20that%20Hopi%20has,of%20a%20future%2C%20through%20the ) is a really interesting example of this.

    @Brigid I'm sorry, I didn't mean to de-rail this thread but hopefully the discussion is still relevant! Your character might have had a completely different way of conceptualising time. There will be sounds and smells they will never have experienced before which they have to reconcile with their own frame of reference. I imagine it would be an incredibly overwhelming experience in a lot of ways.
     
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  21. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    Ok. I'm open to using different terminology. What word should be used instead of primitive? I'm talking about people who live in a forest in loin cloths and have a stone-age level of technology.

    I think important factors would include whether the society has a written language and whether they teach math to the children aside from simple addition and subtraction. More highly developed abstract thinking (language and math skills) is a big part of what allows a people to develop the conscious apparatus and practice using it.

    As you said above, many people in modern societies have superstitious or religious beliefs that tend to shut down conscious thought, and when that happens the unconscious will expand to fill in the gaps. Children begin life completely unconscious, babies are essentially dreaming all the time. Conscious thought is a difficult thing to develop and maintain—it isn't until somewhere in the 20's that the brain finishes growing, and the last part to grow in is the neocortex—necessary for conscious thought. And like anything, it must be developed and used in order to function at optimum levels. But of course partial conscious awareness is available and continues to grow well before that happens.

    Societies developed gradually from more-or-less fully unconscious functioning toward using the conscious apparatus much more. It began with toolmaking and language, and those things increased in complexity. I would say that until developing the scientific method we as a species remained pretty firmly lodged in unconscious thought patterns, coming up with fantastical superstitious ideas to fill the gaps in our knowledge that follow dream logic rather than objective ideas (or as close as we can get, considering we can't truly think objectively). In individuals, there are many things that can suddenly shut down conscious thinking—drugs and alcohol for instance, intense emotions, sleepiness, or sometimes it just sort of drifts off for unknown reasons. Of course sleep—the unconscious is always working (it's what creates dreams) though it does drop into lower levels in order to 'recharge' a bit now and then—the various sleep levels we call Alpha, Beta, and Delta (I think there's another one I'm not remembering).

    Conscious awareness can also be shut down through meditation and various forms of trance. I'm just trying to demonstrate the difference between the two states, and show that they're both very familiar, though many people have never developed very far toward a fully conscious awareness. We all start at the unconscious end and must work our way toward the other. And if a society hasn't done that, then it isn't possible for individuals in that society to make much progress.

    So there are many obstacles that need to be overcome in order for 'full' conscious awareness to come into being (I don't know how much farther is still possible, we probably haven't topped out yet). It happens at the level of individuals and of societies, but I suspect in order to reach a 'modern' level of conscious awareness, a society has to have thrown off a lot of superstitious beliefs and developed complex language, both spoken and written, and math. Of course, the ultimate idea is to balance the two (conscious and unconscious thought), to let them become aware of each other, something that can be accomplished through lucid dreaming or what Jung called Active Imagination, a sort of 'dreaming with eyes open' as he called it. His technique known as Individuation consists of getting them in dialogue with each other, so the Ego can learn that it's not the entirety of the mind, as it believes it is.

    People who live partially in the unconscious have trouble telling the difference between the worlds of dream and waking reality, because in a sense they never really escape the world of dream. Superstition is in a way the confusion of the 2, because in dreams we can fly and transform and teleport instantly to other locations etc, our point of view can instantly move into closeup or a bird's-eye view etc. What I'm referring to as primitive people are those who believe these things can be achieved by for instance a shaman in a trance state. And they can of course, trance is a very unconscious state. But they believe it means he can really become a lizard and chase out the bad spirits. In a sense they may be right—despite modern science's insistence otherwise, often ancient wisdom understands things that science discards as ridiculous, but couches it in dreamlike language and can't explain it in an objective way.

    It took many years (several decades actually) of study for me to reach my current level of understanding of the unconscious, and this includes a lot of inner experience, journaling my dreams and practicing lucid dreaming techniques etc. I don't expect to be able to explain it all to a stranger in a couple of forum posts. In fact, I've found many people are highly resistant to even the idea of an unconscious, it seems threatening to them. I'm not saying you're one of them, I really don't know.

    It almost seems like you're attaching 'good' and 'bad' labels to the conscious and the unconscious. I don't do that, they're just 2 very different ways of thinking that we all experience—one very natural that we share with the animals, and one that's inherently human and that must be developed through education of a particular kind.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2020
  22. Thorn Cylenchar

    Thorn Cylenchar Senior Member

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    A neanderthal would have a different brain function just because of the shape of their skull. I would assume the frontal lobe is smaller than ours.

    "The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that controls important cognitive skills in humans, such as emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behaviors. It is, in essence, the “control panel” of our personality and our ability to communicate."

    "The frontal lobe is important for cognitive functions and control of voluntary movement or activity."-https://www.mayoclinic.org/brain-lobes/img-20008887


    So, how would this play out in a character to have a much smaller frontal lobe? I would probably write them as if they are on the extreme end of the Asperger/autism spectrum. The advantage of using this as a basis is there is lots of information available online on how children who are on the spectrum communicate.

    As a more extreme/evil example, write them as a Mr. Hyde type character. No/minimal control over themselves. If they want something, they take it. If someone annoys them, they attack.

    I would also look at what happens when a person's frontal lobe is damaged(below from wikepedia). I marked the sections I would probably focus on when writing this character:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frontal_lobe#Damage
    "Common effects of damage to the frontal lobe are varied. Patients who have experienced frontal lobe trauma may know the appropriate response to a situation but display inappropriate responses to those same situations in "real life". Similarly, emotions that are felt may not be expressed in the face or voice. For example, someone who is feeling happy would not smile, and the voice would be devoid of emotion. Along the same lines, though, the person may also exhibit excessive, unwarranted displays of emotion. Depression is common in stroke patients. Also common is a loss of or decrease in motivation. Someone might not want to carry out normal daily activities and would not feel "up to it".[8] Those who are close to the person who has experienced the damage may notice changes in behavior.[9] This personality change is characteristic of damage to the frontal lobe and was exemplified in the case of Phineas Gage. The frontal lobe is the same part of the brain that is responsible for executive functions such as planning for the future, judgment, decision-making skills, attention span, and inhibition. These functions can decrease drastically in someone whose frontal lobe is damaged.[8]

    Consequences that are seen less frequently are also varied. Confabulation may be the most frequently indicated "less common" effect. In the case of confabulation, someone gives false information while maintaining the belief that it is the truth. In a small number of patients, uncharacteristic cheerfulness can be noted. This effect is seen mostly in patients with lesions to the right frontal portion of the brain."


     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2020
  23. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Good advice, Wreybies. I thought it would be easy to write about the "primitive man and his thoughts" but it isn't that easy for a modern person. Although, I must also mention that I don't feel being a talking animal. ;)
     
  24. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    "I go to store and buy sandwich," would fit for my Neanderthal too, Xoic. :) Well maybe this is even better Neanderthal: "I go to store and kill mammoth." Thanks for your input. Very much appreciated.
     
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  25. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Thanks so much for this very interesting link, Naomasa. It is very helpful to me.
     
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