Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 103
Nature, Vol. XVII, March 28, 1878, p. 423
WE shall be much obliged if you will
allow us to draw the attention of your readers to a curious fact which the
phonograph has allowed us to prove, and which we announced last Monday at a
meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. We have seen no mention of the fact
Not only are vowels
unaltered by being spoken backwards, but the same fact is true of consonants.
Whether the pulsations of air be made in a given order or in the reverse order
the ear accepts the sound as indicating the same letter. This is true of all
the simple vowel sounds and of all the simple consonant sounds, including of
course several combinations which in English are spelt with two letters, as
th or ng, but which are really simple consonants.
We tried the experiment on single pairs of syllables separated by a single consonant, as ada, aba, aja, ete. [sic] A person coming from outside and ignorant of what consonant had been spoken was able to identify the consonants quite as well backwards as forwards. The chief difficulty was found in distinguishing affa from assa.
We find that this
peculiarity is not limited to consonants between vowels, but that ab said
backwards becomes ba. We have here a standard as to what does really
constitute a single letter or element of articulate speech; it is any one
reversible part. Your readers who possess a phonograph may most easily verify
this observation by saying a word backwards, and hearing the phonograph say it
intelligibly forwards; for instance, noshäeesossa produces association
We shall be glad to learn
whether this fact has been already published, and also whether it was foreseen
as a possibility by any writer.
J. A. EWING
Edinburgh, March 25