Where You're Normal By Comparison






How To Speak Backwards: A Crash Course

So you want to learn to speak backwards, huh? You've come to the right place. Understand that this actually takes study, hard work and practice. This is an intellectual and linguistic exercise, not some parlor trick. Wait, no, I take that back. It is a parlor trick. But it's authentic. The sounds you will be making -- the words you will be speaking -- are real. When done properly, you will sound just like a vinyl record playing in reverse. You can even tape yourself and play it backwards to hear yourself saying the words you intended. This is not some cheesy parlor trick in which a person reverses the spelling of a word and reads back the nonsensical syllables. Our nonsensical syllables will be meaningful.

First things first. Many of the sounds we speak are made up of two sounds back to back. Some of what we think of as vowels are actually a pair of vowels, one sliding into the next. Some of what we think of as consonants are actually two consonants blending into eachother. We could call the paired vowels diphthongs, and there's certainly a name for the paired consonants, but I'd rather avoid all that fancy terminology. The important thing to keep in mind is that you are going to have to analyze your own speech. You'll have to dissect it into its smallest parts. If you can't do that, you'll have no hope of speaking backwards.

Originally I used my own notation for these sounds. Part of them were from the pronunciation guide in my dictionary, others I made up. More recently, I've been trying to use the International Phonetic Alphabet. In its pure form, written so scholars from any language can be certain they are discussing the same thing, the IPA looks like gibberish. However, if we look at How the sounds of English are represented by the IPA, things should be fairly clear to the average person.

The IPA sems a little quirky in parts. For example, they distinguish between the sound in hot, the sound in call, and the sound in father. They also distinguish between see and you. The differences are subtle enough to me that I interchange them.

Now that we have a way to represent the sounds on paper, let's see if any of their examples show the paired sounds we discussed earlier. Indeed, they do: If we add the sound in tea to the sound in she, we get the sound in check. The sound in lady next to the sound in pleasure gives us the sound in large. On the vowel side (altho I'm uncertain I agree with their interpretation) the words boy, now and say are each written with two vowel characters.

It is worth mentioning that an ASCII Phonetic Alphabet has been developed for use on the computer. Even with the introduction of unicode, it's not always practical to type in characters that do not appear on your keyboard.

Now you may be asking yourself, Why do I need to use the IPA when I can just record myself and listen to how my speech sounds backwards? I would recommend you do that. It will help you recognize word parts more easily. But working from a recording alone can be very frustrating. If you try to mimmick the sounds you think you hear, you very often end up with something less understandable than you hoped to. This is why I use the IPA to write down what I'm speaking. Looking at the written pronunciation as I listen to the reversed speech helps me understand how it all fits together.

Let's get started. How about a couple phonetic palindromes: "Say 'yes'!", or "I yaw," or "new moon." Record these onto your computer and reverse them. They should each sound about the same backwards as they did when you spoke them forwards! Neat, huh? Now for something harder: "I hate the ape." could be written as ai heit THi eip, which reverses to pje iTH tjeh ja.

You'll notice that the consonants 'p' and 't' can be a little difficult. Here's where hard listening and practice come in. You may want to preceed each of these letters with a short crescendoing 'h' sound. Kind of challenging, as are 'b', 'd' 'g' and 'k'. When notating backwards sounds, I write the 'k' as 'x', which in the IPA symbolizes the throaty 'h' in the Scottish word "loch".

Well, that's it for now. Have fun and good luck.





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Copyright © 1998-2007, Simmon Keith Barney, All Right Reserved.
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