time reversals: reply to Gessler

Sun, 17 Apr 1994 11:22:41 RSA

I found Mark Gessler's comments on time reversals--or susected
time reversals in the shooting and showing of the videos-- v. interesting.
i am not entirely convinced and would like to see the evidence. It
did remind me of my impressions on first learnign the language Afrikaans and Zu
lu however. As a note, however, I must add that I arrived in South Africa
where I now live in 1979, as the result of a contract teaching job at
University of Cape Town, and ended up staying. I had to learn Afrikaans,
though I have never done it well, and now that I am in the Transvaal, Zulu.
Gessler mentions that the 'sound envelopes' of a reversed film
clip would be inverted, with the plosives coming last and the aspirations
coming first, thus each phoneme would begin softly and end with an abrupt
cut off. My impressions of Afrikaans and Zulu are as follows:
Afrikaans has very few aspirated consonants, and all words the end with
d, t, k, p (and probably others, I have not done a careful analysis) end
very abruptly without the relatively long aspirated 'tail' of sound that seems
to me characteristic of American English speech. Thus, Afrikaans first sounded

to me, before I understood any of it much like a tape of English running
backwards since the consonanants begin softly and end abruptly, not the other
way round as in American English. Once the meaning of the words is understood
however--that is once they are heard -emic-ally, rather than etic-ally
this impression has disappeared for me.
Zulu, on the other hand has phonemically significant aspiration such that
for instance _ukuthetha_ and _ukuteta_ mean different things.
The timing difficulty with this language is that it is often difficult for
me, or others that I have noticed, to pronounce the aspirated and unaspirated
sounds in the correct order, it being very easy to substitute one for the

other, or to make all of them either one or the other. This seems to be a
problem with production of the sounds, while problems with clicks in the
language seems to be aproblem with reception of the sounds. Clicks in rapid
Zulu, or other southern African langauges with clicks, are often very difficult
hear with the correct timing, that is, it is often difficult to hear precisely
where the clicks occur in the spoken words since they seem to almost 'float'
over the stream of sounds without a precise temporal place in the utterance.
Again, once the meanings are known, this effect seems to disappear. It is
purely a phonetic not a phonemic problem.
I would be interested to hear if others have had similar language learning
experiences. While this thread began with palindromes, it might have some
other interesting spin offs.

============================ROBERT THORNTON============================
PVT. BAG 3 Fax: (011) 716 2766 (Anthro Office)
WITS 2050
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