Armstrong's abbreviated article: the smoking gun?
Following our comments
on the Small Step saga, I learned from
historian Prof. James Hansen, author of the standard
biography of Neil Armstrong, that Peter Shann Ford's paper is publicly
available. Shann Ford has on the website of his company in html
form. Wonderful! I wish everyone was so open and diligent!
It turns out that Shann Ford's analysis is
based solely on the
waveform, not on spectrographic analysis. Neither has he performed any
special clean up of static or signal processing: he looked at the same
thing as Mark and I did, but minus the spectrograms. His main evidence
is the figure on the left which he say illustrates "a magnification of the sound wave
between the minimum point of decay
of "for" at 0.136 seconds and the point of onset of"man" at 0.171
seconds. This 0.035 second sound wave is the elusive "a" - thirty-five
thousandths of a second in duration.
Shann Ford goes on to say: "This
0.035 second sound wave is consistent with the sound made in the
lingual (tongue) buccal (mouth) labial (lips) transition from the
terminal consonant "r" in "for" to a vowel "a" to the introductory "m"
in "man". It is not consistent with the sound made in the
lingual-buccal-labial transition from the terminal "r" in "for"
directly to the introductory "m" in "man", as in "for man".
Further, we learn that "In the
transition from "for" to "a" to "man" the tongue is curled into the
terminal "r" of "for" and uncurls for the "a" before the lips close for
"m" in "man" creating a pressure wave consistent with the 0.035 second
sound wave [in the figure].
In the transition from "for" to
"man" (as in the statement "for man") the lips close for the "m" of
"man" while the tongue is still curled for the "r" of "for" precluding
the creating of the pressure wave consistent with the sound wave of "a".
None of this is unreasonable. But it's not terribly conclusive either.
What Shann Ford claims to have seen is not a smoking gun, but a waft
of air as Armstrong reached for the holster. Whether that is indeed
what Shann Ford has observed, is not clear, and we have no evidence at
all that Armstrong ever fired a bullet. At best, given the timing
issues I alluded to in my last post, he probably fired a blank.
Now, as I have to switch to commuter mode, I'll
limit myself to a few questions:
- Is .35 ms a reasonable length of time for a "sound wave"
generated by uncurling of an [r]?
- On the spectrogram the first .35 ms of the interval in question
does not appear interestingly distinct from what follows: not having the spectrogram available, he has probably chosen the onset point of "man" somewhat arbitrarily. Is there any
reason to say that there is a special acoustic feature in the specific
.35 ms region Shann Ford identifies?
- Even if there was some tongue gesture as Shann Ford describes, is
that any reason to say that the "a" followed? Even if we were
convinced that the unfolding of the tongue occurred in anticipation of an
intended "a", it doesn't follow that there was an "a", only that
Armstrong intended to produce one. But we already knew that. He spent
several hours rehearsing!
- Even if the pulses of energy observed in the spectrograms in our
earlier posts were interference (and Shann Ford apparently thinks one
of them is a tongue movement, and the others are interference), that
still doesn't explain why there is no trace of a vowel-like production
in the gaps between the pulses. So if there was an "a", why was it so
short (taking no extra time than a transition from "for" to "man" would
anyway), and where did it go?
So far, then, I must respectfully remain unconvinced that Shann Ford
has actually discovered anything newsworthy. I want to hear more from
professional phoneticians before I go any further. But I do think it's
neat that Shann Ford tried to apply readily available scientific tools
to an old problem. Maybe he or the media didn't realize that there are
professionals trained in the use of such tools? And if not, whose fault
Posted by David Beaver at October 3, 2006 07:37 PM