October 03, 2006

One 75-millisecond step before a "man"

I don't have any new insights to add to the Great Armstrong Determiner Hunt, but I can contribute some better-quality spectrograms.


Here's the first phrase:

And here's the second one:

Well, here's an additional meta-comment. The Houston Chronicle story tells us that

According to Ford, Armstrong spoke, "One small step for a man ... " in a total of 35 milliseconds, 10 times too quickly to be heard."

If we take this assertion literally, the claim is that Armstrong produced six words in 35 milliseconds, which corresponds to the extraordinary speaking rate of 10,286 words per minute. Seems like BBC reporters are not the only ones who ought to get into the habit of invoking the calculator function on their cell phones from time to time.

It's apparent by inspection that "that's one small step for (x) man" actually took Armstrong about 2.18 seconds to say. This corresponds to a speaking rate of about 193 words per minute, which is a normal-to-slow sort of rate for formal speech when pauses are not counted. Thus in the first Bush-Kerry presidential debate, averaging over the first 3 1/2 minutes of each candidate's contributions, Bush clocked 220 words per minute while Kerry came in at 202 WPM. (W used longer pauses, so that if pauses are included, his rate went down to 155 WPM, while Kerry came in at 167 WPM).

I expect that what Ford meant was that there's a period of time that he associates with the missing 'a' that is .035 seconds long. It would have to be somewhere in the .075 seconds between the end of the vocalic part of "for" and the beginning of the vocalic part of "man", highlighted in the picture below:

It would have to be sharing that space with the [m] of man. And as David Beaver has pointed out, the corresponding lower-amplitude region in the next phrase, between the end of the vowel of "for" and the start of the vowel of "mankind", is also about .075 seconds long (give or take 5 msec in either case, depending on your judgement about where to put the boundaries). And 75 msec is about right for a pre-stressed intervocalic word-initial [m].

[I guess I should say that I can't either hear or see whether or not Armstrong produced a half-swallowed schwa in between "for" and "man", and (in advance of seeing his discussion of the evidence) I'm skeptical of the arguments attributed to Ford in the news media. If anyone can point me to a version of his presentation that is not filtered through the media process, I'll look forward to reading it.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at October 3, 2006 12:46 PM