One can get a sense of intelligible of language in general listenings of backwards speech, but is it really what you think is there? The answer may be sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
Also, what about someone who speaks English (to some extent), and is speaking in his native language? Can we hear utterances in English?
Zhu Rongji, who was Chairman of the People’s Republic of China until 2003, was talking about relations with the U.S. at the time of the Bush administration. He is speaking in Chinese, however his English is known to be quite good. A general listening gave me the following two potential reversals. Their particular words made it worthwhile to save it at the time and investigate the phonology of it at a later date (which I have now just done).
The audio is not good. The noise from the audio sound has possibly had an effect on some consonants from the FS in determining the RS. Lower quality audio increases the chances of hearing something not there. Therefore, what I have documented is a possibility and nothing more. It may be heard differently.
Reverse: That Bush, he wants to shoot a snowstorm
Forward: Wo zheng chun bu shi zong kong shou de
That Bush [shou de] – (b) is perceivable as the mouth comes closer together in [ou]; [t] comes from [d]; there is no [th], the constriction at the end of ‘de’ just gives some impression of it. Note the short, suppressed laugh that occurs after ‘Bush’.
he wants to – sh(i zong ka)n – [z] comes from [tst] in the FS; [wa] comes from the [o] in ‘zong’ moving to a more close-mouthed position; however, [n] can be perceived following the movement towards [w] (from [ng] in the FS. The double syllable of ‘zong’ creates the perception of ‘he’ before full articulation of [ng] occurs.
shoot a – ch[un bu sh]I – the bilabial character of (b) in the FS disappears to give an impression of [t], which is interesting; the [n] in the FS has largely disappeared but leaves a clear syllable change to (a) in the RS.
snowstorm [wo zheng ch]un – The sibilant (s) and [n] in ‘snow’ come from the sibilance in [ch] and the nasal [ng]; in ‘storm’, the (st) comes from the sibilance and stop consonant in [zh], and the [m] is perceived from the closed-mouthed [w] in ‘wo’.
Reverse: He’s in love with the bottle (?) you admit. [Note: (?) represents an extra syllable that sounds something like [oi] which may not be heard in a general listening].
Forward: Chang chi wen din de yo to hutu guanxin (Note, ‘yo to’ is unlikely to be the actual Chinese pinyin words; these two words are recorded as they sound).
He’s in love [guanxin] – a weakened [g] and noise from the audio recording, and the release of a nasal [n] in the RS may give the impression of ‘love’ in a wider listening; however, one can also perceive ‘no good’ behind ‘gua[nxin yo t]o’, to approximate ‘ Easy, no good the bottle …’. In reality, it is more an [n] than an [l]. An isolated section of the reversal helps to show the uncertainty (please note: isolated words in FS don’t always deliver the true phonemes of the word). [n] in ‘in’ (RS) comes from [n] in the FS; (s) comes from palatised (s) in the sound of [x] in the FS. The final [n] in the FS disappears in the RS.
with the [hutu] – [w] comes from the rounding of the mouth at final (u); [th] from [t]
bottle – y[o to] – A sense of [l] comes from the movement of the tongue from [o] to [y]; a sense of a (sonorous) bilabial (b) comes from the movement of the mouth to a more closed at the end of [to].
you admit [din de y]o – ‘yer’ (you) comes from [y]; admit comes from [din de]; A general listening will give an impression of [m]; however it is [n] as in ‘adnit’. There is an m/n issue in RS, and acceptance will depend on the efficacy of the rest of the reversal(s).
The RS gives a sense of a Chinese speaker speaking English, and a Chinese-like accent occurs.
Wanting to shoot at a snowstorm is, of course, ridiculous, and this conjures up the idea of a foolish person, who sees threats everywhere, or overreacts towards events.
A close examination of ‘He’s in love with the bottle, you admit’, does not aid certainty about the words. A general listening may give the impression of it, and a close examination may lead one to decide perhaps it is or perhaps it isn’t. In an examination of isolated words in FS, sounds in those words are not always perceivable as the sounds in the word uttered. For example, there are times when an expected alveolar in a word can sound like a velar if listened to closely.
There is an element of me wanting it to be what I have documented, as I find it amusing, and it relates to Bush’s past drinking. But, the more one wants it to so, the more chance of error.
An interesting observation about this Chinese speaker is the movement of rounded vowels in the FS to achieve a sense of a bilabial in the RS (e.g. (b) in ‘bottle’; (b) in ‘Bush’. Twice, the movement of a rounded vowel created an impression of [w], but this is expected.