Intelligibility and ambiguity in Reverse Speech – Casey Anthony reversal

This is a reversal taken from Casey Anthony’s (daughter Caylee was murdered) phone call from prison to her parents. A general listening can give the impression of actual (and interesting) language. The impression of the reversal is aided by a supportive stress pattern and weakened consonants from the forward speech, and perception of one consonant over another. The point of this analysis is to:
1) demonstrate how the mind extracts intelligible language out of sounds approximating language.
2) demonstrate that it is quite easy to hear different things where there is ambiguity.

Part of the language sample is ambiguous. I will first analyse one perception below, although there are other perceptions. I do not necessarily think that the example given is the correct one. In fact, the discussion below may lead to another likely representation of language. The chief issue in the reversal is the section ‘they’re in love’. After analysing the example, I will discuss other perceptions. In the discussion, points about the characteristics of RS will be brought to light. The question is, can this section (they’re in love, or another perception) be safely documented as representing language, or should it be discarded as being too ambiguous?

Reversal: Fuck you they’re in love, now I’m the one
Forward (talking to her mother Cindy): you don’t [know what my involvement is in stuff]?

Fuck – An impression of [k] can be gained due to the weakening of the alveolar stop and sibilant –[st] in ‘stuff’, and subsequent confusion of place of articulation, leading the listener to hear it as a velar [k], although sonorous and fricative in manner (that is, it is not a proper stop consonant).
you – from the forward speech, the [n], like the other alveolars [s,t], has weakened, and is dominated by [y] formed by the high frontal vowel in ‘in’
they’re in – the sibilance of ‘is’ has disappeared permitting perception of another dental or alveolar sound (such as [th] or [n]) or even a [w]. American listeners should not assume that ‘they’re’ should be rhotacized, that is possess an articulated [r]. This will cause the American listener to more likely perceive it as ‘the’. Just because it is an American speaker doesn’t mean you will get rhotic [r]. There is a strong syllable break after ‘they’re’ at the point of [t] in ‘involvement’ caused by a combination of an alveolar stop and constriction of the upper throat. The [n] in ‘in’ can be heard from [n] in ‘involve[men]t’ just before [m].
love – around the initial consonant, there are three consonants from the forward speech (‘invo[lvem]ent’). This is where one’s subjective perceptions come more strongly into play. If one isolates the section ‘in lo’, it is easy to hear the [l], with the other two consonants disappearing. That is not to say that ‘love’ is correct, as [m] or [v] may be heard by altering perception. Also, the vowel has been articulated in a different way to how many listeners say it and normally hear it, although there are English-speaking people who do pronounce the vowel like that. Interestingly, the whole reversal doesn’t seem to begin with any particular American accent, but a more American pronunciation begins to take over a this point as if a different ‘voice’ takes over from another.
Now I’m – comes behind ‘[my in]volvement’. A diphthong may be heard followed by a second shorter vowel moving to [m].
the one – an impression of ‘[th]e’ occurs off the [t] in ‘what’, however, on closer listening the vowel is extended and more rounded as it transitions to [w].

Alternate perceptions
The particular issue of ‘l,v,m’ close together can create confusion in perception. If RS is real and a subconscious entity is utilising/influencing the spoken language, one of the consonants will be favoured over the others.
What other perceptions could there be? Perhaps one may even perceive a stretched out ‘the – en’ with a double syllable followed by ‘mom’ (fuck you then mom); however, you would have to accept that there are reasonable characteristics of a bilabial [m] where the [v] is from the forward speech (and accept an oddly uttered ‘then’). Maybe a listener will hear ‘the in-law’, ignoring the existence of the consonant [v]. One may hear ‘involve’. Characteristics of the initial [v] still remain, and the changed position of the [l] can be explained by the lengthened [o] vowel before the final [v]. Actually, examining the word ‘involve’ in FS examples, one can see how imprecise it can sound. One may have even ‘cut into’ the phrase following (that begins with ‘now’) in their reversal location, and perceived a short ‘n it’ to hear ‘they’re involved [‘n it]’.   It would be quite natural in speech for [‘n it] to follow ‘involve(d)’with this articulation. It is quite normal for the [d] in ‘involved’ to be elided in natural speech. And, a perception of [n] in ‘now’ can still be gained following this. Note though, the perception of a stop [t] (‘n it) can occur just by ending at a point halfway through a vowel occurring in the forward speech. A perception of a stop consonant can also occur at the beginning in the same way.

But, there is more that is worthy of consideration. One can perceive ‘Fuck you they’re involved; now I’m the one’. Here, we would have to choose ‘they’re’ over ‘there’ or ‘their’ for grammatical sense. Perhaps it may be perceived as  1) ‘Fuck you there – involved’, or 2) ‘Fuck, you were involved’ (or perhaps ‘in love’) (See audio below). Why 1)? RS quite often seems to be a series of statements rather than one longer single statement; actually it is quite common – in this way, ‘involved’ becomes a second statement. Why is ‘were’ a possibility? The disappearance of the sibilant from ‘is’ in the FS permits an impression of another sound, and a mid vowel more forward in the mouth is credible as some English people use that position for the vowel. Now, it would seem silly mixing up ‘accents’, however, there isn’t necessarily any mixing up. There may be a transition from one personality/voice (more English) to another personality/voice (more American).

Now, there is one more, I think, important consideration. RS has certain characteristics that may involve one personality adding information after another personality – different personality aspects adding statements about the topic at hand, each statement backed up tightly against the next, and not heard properly unless separated, or, one personality simply taking over from another personality, like an interruption (discussed further below). There is often a transition word that has qualities of the first voice and qualities of the second voice. There is a change in ‘accent’ occurring as a transition. In this case, we may hear 1) ‘Fuck you were’ … interrupted by a second voice 2) ‘involved – now I’m the one’. Note a possibility that the first voice was going to end with ‘involved’, but it became appropriated by the second voice (in essence it was shared). Or, 1) ‘Fuck you there’. 2) Involved – now I’m the one’.  The clear break at the end of ‘involvement’ in the FS could be particularly important as a clear break between voices; however with the transition beginning during ‘there/were’.

Therefore, an important consideration in RS is to start and stop at the right point. This is not always easy. Knowledge of the characteristics of RS is vitally important. A willingness and ability to take the time to hear it in as many different ways as possible may help to lead you to a more apt and more correct reversal. Nevertheless, with so much ambiguity, you should not claim that one example is correct (but you won’t know this unless you have the pliancy to explore different alternatives), but offer alternatives, or discard completely.

This is an example of how the mind hears intelligible language from imprecise sounds. It also demonstrates that ambiguity can easily create different perceptions of what is there. Of course, this happens in forward speech – linguistic influences cause a variety of phenomena, such as elision, assimilation, lenition etc. The mind is able to reproduce the intended language from the distortion and overall characteristics – weakened consonants in the forward speech has permitted the perception of other, different consonants (e.g. [k] in place of [ts]), or the perception of one consonant over another [l,v,m], the weak syllable at the place of ‘[the] one’ aids the perception of a short unrounded schwa/vowel rather than a longer, more rounded vowel, the overall stress pattern helps considerably, and of course the mind has a tendency to hear intelligible language.

So, we have here the mind hearing something intelligible. Without considering how it is being produced, does it appear to be potentially intelligible language? Usually in forward speech, you know what the person is saying, but if you were to record the speech and listen carefully to parts, there may be sections that are not so obvious. You have to ask yourself is it what my mind tells me it is saying? Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes it is no. A close examination of what is happening phonologically is important, and also experimentation with where sections begin and end.

What about ‘accent’ and different voice qualities? Many reversals do not have a particularly discernible accent (other vocal characteristics occur) while others do. Just because someone is American, you should not assume that you will hear American pronunciation always. That is simply not the case. One can hear very English accents from Americans in reverse. One thing I have noticed, is that a reversal statement is usually fairly homogeneous and intact ‘voice or accent – wise’. You normally don’t get a hodgepodge of different accents on different words. A statement immediately following will often have different voice or ‘accent’, and may even take over from (interrupt) the first voice. So, it is important to recognise changes in tonality occurring, and have a good knowledge of how people around the world pronounce words.

Along with actually identifying the intended language, one needs to apply a right interpretation to it. Well, by saying ‘fuck you’, we can reasonably consider that she is angry at her mother. What if you thought it said ‘they’re involved in it – now I’m the one’? Would you think this is an admission of guilt? (now I’m the one). What about ‘they’re’? Does that mean others were a part of it, too? But is it one single subconscious entity communicating both statements, or are they actually separate personalities? In the study of psychology, subconscious personalities can refer to the speaker as a separate person and use third person (he/she/they). So, ‘they’re’ may refer to Casey and another who was an accomplice. The second statement may be a more primary self and a major part of the ego, and hold less separation from the speaker, and therefore uses ‘I’. In both cases, one may assume that Casey was involved in the murder. But then again, we are dealing with part of the person’s subconscious – it is a thoughtform; it does not necessarily mean that anything that appears to be admission has actually been externalised and acted upon. The subconscious can hold beliefs that are not necessarily true, although it can and does influence the person. Think about guilt and shame internalised, too.

What if it is ‘Fuck you they’re in love, now I’m the one’? It may be disconnected to the topic discussed, but be connected to her emotion around her mother. The first personality, a protective one, seeing Casey as a separate person, is talking about a relationship that was important to Casey, but not approved of by her mother. The second statement, if the topic is the same, states that she is the one (wanted and desired by the other person, she feels special). Then again, does the second statement move back to the topic spoken of (Casey’s guilt/non-guilt)?

I never thought 3 or 4 ambiguous words would create so much thought, reflection and discussion! My final point of discussion is the example ‘Fuck you there/were … Involved – now I’m the one’. I find the tonality of ‘Involved – now I’m the one’ to be similar, with the first section of a different tonality/voice, and then starting to transition to the second ‘voice’. There is something worth considering here.

‘Fuck you there’, in the first voice (not American accent) may (or may not) refer to Casey’s subconscious anger toward her mother (Casey is in prison and the mother is at home). The second reversal (more American accent) refers to her involvement in the murder. ‘Fuck you were (involved)’ is either a simple statement of truth from one personality, or perhaps even a realisation by the particular personality that Casey was involved. ‘Involved’ is shared by both voices, with the second voice admitting (or at least believing) involvement. We need to be careful, though, we are dealing with the subconscious; beliefs can be held within the subconscious that do not or have not been acted upon – they only act as an influencing force on the person.

In the wash up, we are left with two general theses – one may hear ‘in love’ or ‘involved’. For those who consider it ‘in love’, don’t think that ‘involved’ is clearly produced always in FS – it isn’t, so it could be ‘involved’. So, either Casey’s subconscious either spoke about an emotional issue concerning her mother and an intimate relationship, or Casey’s subconscious indicated Casey’s (potential) involvement in Caylee’s murder (or at least a non-actualised thoughtform with perhaps a guilt complex).

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