Analysing speech reversals can be interesting as Reverse Speech is still a mystery. I have amused myself by doing this with a Trump reversal which is on YouTube

Documented RS: I’ll see in the lawsuit    

FS: do solemnly swear

Breakdown of phonemes and syllables

lawsuit – [do sol]emnly   Language clearly follows FS phonemes

see in the – sol[emnly s]wear

  • Perception of ‘see’ comes from [y s].
  • Perception of ‘in the’ has come from [emnl]. The two syllables come from the movement from [em] to articulation of /l/. Of course, /n/ is silent in ‘solemnly’.
  • It is possible to perceive [n] as articulation moves through /l/ to onset of /m/ in the RS. The articulation of [l] on the alveolar ridge helps give perception of a short ‘in’, although /l/ can still be heard as well.
  • A close listening reveals the sounds as ‘seal mo’. The /l/ is quite clear, and ‘the’ is ‘mo’. As /m/ may be perceived as [n] sometimes, this perhaps has helped give the perception of ‘the’, Of course even in FS, ‘the’ is not always articulated clearly and can sound like different things on close examination.  
  • So, primarily the issues to consider in this section is the existence of an /l/ and the ‘mo’. In an overall listening it can certainly sound like the documented reversal; this is helped by the low energy of /m/in ‘mo’, as well as its prosody and duration of perceived syllables (apart from documented recorded ‘I’ll’).

I’ll – s[wear]

Consideration of ‘you’

Now let’s take for argument sake that it is meant to be ‘see in the’. One may wonder if there is a short ‘you’ also, to make ‘I’ll see you in the lawsuit’. One can ‘project’ its existence into it. In natural speaking small words can be shortened and spoken very quickly and be missed. I’m not claiming it is there. I’m not trying to prove that it is.

Let’s assume ‘the’ is meant to be there …. To consider ‘you’, we need to focus on the ending of ‘see’ where there is some issue. An /l/ can be heard whether it is isolated with ‘see’ (‘seal’) or isolated slightly later (‘iln’). But, as the vowel moves toward /l/, is this meant to represent ‘you’? If we isolate ‘seal’ we hear the diphthong vowel with the short /i/ first, and a rounding from the ‘al’. Isolating the section from slightly before the rounding, and capturing the end of /i/, we can hear something quite similar to ‘you’. Yet, it is still easy to perceive the /l/. We can isolate sounds in different places and hear different words, which are not real, so we need to be careful. After this, /n/ can still be perceived in the release of /l/ and onset of /m/.

So, can ‘you’ be there? Or is /l/ meant to represent ‘in’? Or, is it ‘seal’? We can miss something subtle entirely, or we will put it in there because it makes sense to the grammar in our brain. What we need to do is look for indications that it is, in fact, there.

So, in the wash-up I certainly couldn’t say it is there. Like in FS, not all sections of language come out clearly and can sound like different things on close examination. I believe in examining for all possibilities.

Could the reversal say something else?

Within in this reversal one may hear ‘seal my loss’/’see in my loss’/’see in the loss’.

We need to look at where the reversal begins and ends. As ‘I’ll’ does not naturally sound like the beginning of the reversal as it has been documented in the recording (different time duration relative to the rest, for example), we either begin it at ‘see/seal’ or assume it is ‘Her, I w’ll’ or ‘hurl’.

If we assume the documented ‘see in the’ without ‘you’ is correct, then we have ‘Her, I w’ll see in the loss/Hurl. See in the loss’. However, phonemically it is also, ‘Seal my loss’, but may be ‘See in my loss’. The rounded vowel after [m] is not really an issue, and could be ‘my’. However, we need to see where the ending of the reversal lies. The last part, ‘suit’, does occur naturally as part of this reversal, so it does seem to end at ‘lawsuit’. So, we get something like ‘Seal my lawsuit’.

If ‘Her, I w’ll’,  then ‘her’ is identifying a woman, then saying what he will do. If it were ‘hurl’, it may represent disgust, or fear and anxiety (see commentary about other reversals below).

A general listening does give a perception of ‘in the lawsuit’. And that is how we interpret what people say as we listen to them speak – overall, big picture listening.  We would have to assume the alveolar articulation of /l/ is meant to be /n/ (and there is some perception of /n/ in the release of /l/ and onset of /m/), and the /m/ is meant to be /n/ to produce ‘the’. Of course, in natural speaking, when the previous word ends in /n/, the /th/ quite naturally takes on /n/ characteristics.

But because of the two issues, we should consider alternatives as well.

Her, I w’ll see in my lawsuit/Hurl. See in my lawsuit/Her, I w’ll seal my lawsuit/Hurl. Seal my lawsuit/  

One more thing I will add here. The lawsuit has been applied to the one publicly occurring at the time of writing this – the overturning of Trump’s migrant ban and Trump’s legal counter. However, this occurred at the time of inauguration, and I understand there had been other lawsuits occurring from Trump’s business activities, then. One does not have to see it as predictive and applying to the current issue. This is like people interpreting the words of some prophet or psychic from past history as pertaining to occurrences in their generation. But of course, at the same time, it is quite easy to see Trump entertaining future lawsuits from his actions that would come. Perhaps he was thinking about Hillary! It just doesn’t mean it is a psychic occurrence.

What about other reversals with it, and other voices?

Because it’s great fun investigating the possibilities of RS, let’s take a look at language-sounding pieces aside the reversal.

Before the reversal (in the RS direction, after in the FS direction), we may hear something like:

Ill of fear, flow our/out (Dad)?  

[that I will faithfully]

Ill – faithfu[lly] – closest to ‘ill’; lack of /h/ for ‘heal’. ‘Ill’ more appropriate anyway.

of – faith[fu]lly

fear – f[aith]fully  [th] can be perceived, but [f] can also be perceived as an alternative.

Flow out – tha[t I will f]aithfully   Sounds follow the FS phonemes clearly.   

What may be heard as ‘Dad’ is not natural with the previous words in stress/amplification/pitch etc, and it could be counted as gibberish. If not, perhaps Trump’s unconscious added his father to the mix.

So we have something like:

Ill of fear. Flow out.

Before the above example in the RS direction (last in the FS direction) is:

Weak, you’re sca ….   

faithfully [execu]te

weak – exe[cu]te   rounded vowel and [c] produce ‘weak’.

you’re sca … [exe]cute  [ex] produces ‘sca …’ and [e] produces ‘you’re’.  

You will notice the great difference in voice type between ‘Ill of fear. Flow out’ and ‘Seal my lawsuit’/’Seal in the lawsuit’. ‘Seal my lawsuit’/’See in my lawsuit’ is Trump’s normal voice, while the other one is very different. Because it is Trump’s normal voice, we could assume it is an aspect of Trump that is part of his ego self, that is, part of the personality that creates Trump’s outward identity. ‘

I have found that one may hear a series of reversals that flow directly on from one to another, like a conversation occurring between selves. One ‘voice’ can quickly take over from another without pause between. In this case, the first voice did not get to complete what it was saying – which possibly was ‘Weak, you’re sca[red]’. There is a sibilant-like sound occurring at the beginning from the [t] in ‘execute’, however, this can be seen as an extraneous sound, and therefore the reversal begins at ‘weak’. The second voice, took over with ‘Ill of fear; flow out’.

Should we follow the FS direction or the RS direction for sequence of reversals? If the interrupted reversal is genuine, then it must have come first at least in relationship to the one immediately following I the RS direction. The first one to occur in the FS direction – ‘seal etc’ may have come first in the RS, especially if ‘Dad’ and/or ‘hurl’ is gibberish. If these are not gibberish, then one may consider a sequence from start to finish in the RS direction. This brings up the question of how long can reversals occur continuously in the RS direction? Probably several seconds anyway as this is how long ahead our brain can be formulating what is going to be said ahead of speaking.

There is a relationship between the two reversals – weak, scared, ill of fear. These then, would be different aspects of Trump , fearful of the situation he is in. Does ‘ill of fear’ mean that he feels ill because of fear, or that he is sick and tired of fear? If the first ‘voice’ was telling him that he is weak and scared, the next ‘voice’ may have hit back, interrupting, saying that he is sick and tired of fear and he is going to let it ‘flow out’, whether he means the fear flow out and leave him, or that he will exude confidence and lack of fear to the public. That is one interpretation.

In the wash up, listening to the whole utterance, the brain easily follows the articulated /l/ as ‘in’ because /l/ at the end of ‘seal’ is a hard /l/ and there is some perception of /n/.

Weak, you’re sca …/Ill of fear, flow out (Dad)/(Her I w’ll/Hurl) see in my lawsuit/see in the lawsuit/seal my lawsuit    

The authors make claims that can lead readers to believe that David Oates is a shyster, fraudently profiteering from his claims. For example:

  • ‘His company … is dedicated to profiting from his discovery’.
  • A ‘reviewer’ of David Oates’ book, Susan Brombacher, concluded ‘that (Oates) seems more interested in making a profit than educating others.
  • ‘The Reverse Speech Web page contains a plethora of merchandise and services available to consumers at considerable prices’.
  • ‘ ….. those who pay (David Oates) a hefty sum and go through his training can then serve as expert witnesses and command hefty sums themselves’.

It is my suggestion that researchers like Byrne and Normand drop the fact that David Oates makes an income from Reverse Speech, and avoid the urge to use this as a method to discredit the man and the phenomenon, whether real or not.

The attention given to the fact that Reverse Speech is an income-producing enterprise takes away from the necessary argument concerning its genuineness, and this can appear as small-mindedness, and smack of academic ‘poor form’.  The authors would do well in ascertaining whether real speech exists, and what it is that is producing it.

Therefore, I suggest that anyone who seeks to produce a critique of the existence of Reverse Speech, do so by first identifying whether there are grammatically-acceptable, linguistically-viable utterances in reverse that are significant in number and length. I have yet to see a critical study that addresses this basic first point of consideration. From a recognition of the large number of utterances in reverse which are interesting linguistically, one then needs to determine whether they are simply coincidental sounds and have nothing to do with an intelligent awareness. An honest appraisal of the voluminous material available that is linguistically-viable, as well as grammatically and syntactically appropriate, should then lead to the question of whether an act of intelligence/awareness can or does produce it. We are unable to demonstrate this scientifically at this time. Nevertheless, psychology has increasingly become more comfortable with the existence of the unconscious and the subpersonalities that act upon the person. Of course, it is quite a jump to a consideration of the unconscious aspects of a person communicating via the reversed sounds of the speaker. Perhaps in time, further understanding of the mysteries of the brain and the unconscious will lead toward a wider consideration of the phenomenon.

Byrne and Normand, (2000). The Demon-Haunted Sentence: A Skeptical Analysis of Reverse Speech. Skeptical Inquirer Volume (24)2. Retrieved from

This study, published in 1993, chiefly looked at the effect of reversals on listeners, and is motivated by previous claims of influence of backward messages in rock music. It does not address Reverse Speech.

In the study, the authors played backward messages to one group and the forward speech content to another group. Afterwards, to both groups, the backward speech examples were played along with other examples which were not in the original examples. Their findings showed that the group that listened to the backward speech were able to recognise more of the actual backward speech played again to them than the ones that heard only the forward speech. As expected in the study, those who heard backward messages were able to recognise more than those who heard the forward speech of the backward examples played again. Acoustics (backward message group) were recognised more than meaning (forward speech group).

A second part to the study had groups read forward speech examples and decide whether they were what they had heard. The forward speech group recognised more of the speech than the backward speech group.This, of course, is understandable. Asking people to recognise the forward speech behind backward speech examples of a set of examples they heard once is asking their conscious mind to recognise something supposedly subconscious, soon after hearing. The conscious mind gets in the way, of course. The subconscious is sub … conscious. Play forward speech statements and then ask a group to recognise typed statements they had heard … well, how significant will the result be compared to the other group? Tests of this sort are only really worthwhile through a longer term observation of behavioural change through the influence of the subconscious. Yet, even then, those who listened to the backward speech recognised the forward statements at a proportion of 0.53 compared to the forward speech listeners at a proportion of 0.55, which is not a great difference.

In any consideration of Reverse Speech, there is little that is particularly informative here – the effect of reversals on the non-speaker listener is of interest, of course; however it is secondary to the consideration of whether real speech occurs, and what this means for the speaker himself. Secondly, asking the conscious mind to simply recognise what the subconscious is supposed to recognise, is just as likely to produce error, and, therefore, having those who heard forward speech and then seeing the typed forward speech, will, naturally, have an outcome greater than one who did not hear it. Thirdly, in Reverse Speech, intelligible language occurs in both modes. This study refers to forward speech played in reverse as gibberish.

A further point – the authors note that subjects were inexperienced at listening to backward speech. They suggested that people who were skilled at converting forward speech into backward speech (and vice versa?) could be good candidates for detection of backward messages. Of course, consciously-aware conversions have little to do with subconscious influences of messages. Again, there is nothing in this that has value in any consideration of Reverse Speech.

Prompted language

The authors state, “the target may be missed many times unless listeners are warned to listen for it”. This is an argument brought up by other researchers such as Newbrook and Curtain (1997) – that suggestion prompts hearing. Their point is quite correct –  suggestion can and does manipulate what people hear/believe etc. And, in regard to listening to backward messages, there is validity in the claim. However, it becomes a case of this can happen, therefore in all situations and cases it can be nothing more than suggestion.

The authors put forward the premise that potential meaning is there, but actualised meaning is not unless it can be heard by the listener. So, for meaning to be actualised, it must be decoded by a listener; therefore, if a listener fails to decode it, then there is no meaning. On the other hand, meaning is simply potential unless there is a listener with the right skill/ability can decode it, such as in understanding a foreign language. Their implication seems to be that, unless listeners can pick up messages independently, free from prompting, the message remains potential, and not actualised; in other words it may not be there at all. A message, then, may not be heard as something easily comprehensible,  and it would require either a particular decoding skill, or someone pointing out that it is there, aka suggestion.

Surely, if a backward message that approximates language is played, it stands to reason that more people will hear the message if pointed out than if not indicated. A study by Thorne and Himelstein (1984) found that 18% of listeners who were told to listen for messages in rock music (but not specifically satanic messages) heard satanic words, while 41% who were told to listen for satanic messages heard them. Of course, people will not always pick up short snippets of language that appear suddenly and unannounced, and that are not well enunciated – if two or three words from rock music, or from fast, casual speech were played amongst gibberish, surely more will pick up language that has been first indicated?

So, yes, there is no argument that people are influenced by verbal suggestion. Yet, if one played short segments of backward messages amongst gibberish, it is understandable that people will be more likely to recognise it if prompted. This, quite frankly, may be found to be true for forward speech. Play rock music or fast casual speech as short snippets of three to six words, and place it amongst gibberish, which group will hear significantly more? The prompted or unprompted group? The fact that more will hear speech that is prompted than unprompted does not ‘prove’ the lack of existence of backward messages. In addition, it must be realised that backward speech is not exactly the same as forward speech. Although many linguistic processes are shared by both modes, backward speech has its own nuances that occur through the subconscious communicating at the same time and space as the conscious speaker. People are not used to hearing speech in its backward mode. Just as people do not hear some accents as well as others, people will be less likely to pick up speech easily (and unprompted) that can be different to what they are used to hearing.

There are three questions that inform my thinking about Reverse Speech.

The first question is, are there substantial amounts of grammatically acceptable, linguistically-viable language in the reverse of speech? The answer is yes, there is. This can be proven. The next question is, can this language inform us about the person? The answer is yes, it does appear so. There is substantial evidence that is contextually/person-relevant (although I admit this can also be a product of projection and wrongful interpretation). The next question is, who/what is producing this language, what is the situation actually referred to, and, who does the message refer to? Any worthwhile interpretation would, and needs depend upon which subconscious aspect is communicating (if one is to differentiate aspects rather than see the subconscious as a single entity), and the actual situation/experience referred to, and who the referent is.

Begg, I. M., Needham, D. R., & Bookbinder, M. (1993). Do backward message unconsciously affect listeners? No. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 47(1).

Newbrook, M., & Curtain, J. (1997 ). Oates’ theory of Reverse Speech: a critical examination. The Skeptic (17)3

Thorne, S.B., & Himelstein, P. (1984). The role of suggestion in the perception of satanic messages in rock-and-roll recordings. Journal of Psychology (116), 245-248