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Human speech has two distinctive and complementary functions and modes: forward and reverse, also known as overt and covert. The overt mode is that which we’re all familiar with and aware of, as we choose our words, frame our sentences, and speak them forward. The covert mode of speech is spoken simultaneously with the overt mode, and we’re not even conscious of it. It is constructed by automatic cognitive processes. These two modes of speech are independent of one another, but form an integral part of communication. Language development in children starts backward before it does forward, as baby talk. As the child learns overt speech, the two modes will integrate to form a bi-level communication process. Constructed on a subconscious level, reverse speech is understood subconsciously, as a spontaneous subliminal message. Because we are unaware of the message we are receiving in reverse, it bypasses our logic center and is more likely to be trusted. Understanding this phenomenon, advertising agencies, governments and others seeking to manipulate the public will deliberately insert reverse speech into their messaging. Subliminal messaging is a blanket term that covers multiple media. Our subconscious is also able to pick up messages subliminally in other types of media as well. Words or pictures may be flashed onto a television screen or within a movie so quickly that our conscious mind isn’t aware that we have seen it, yet our subconscious mind has received the message. Images can be inserted into a photograph, artwork, magazine advertisement, or product packaging in such a manner that we are not consciously aware of it, at least not unless someone points it out to us. Yet, our subconscious mind receives the message. A subliminal message is a signal or message embedded within another medium, intended to pass below the normal limits of human perception, entering directly into the subconscious mind, thereby bypassing the logic center of the human brain.



Feature Article

Reverse Speech: Satan or a Manner of Speaking?

reverse speech

Backward masking or reverse speech was given national attention when hidden messages were discovered in some of the Beatles' songs. The "Paul is dead" messages led to a period in which teenagers were as interested in playing rock albums backwards as forwards, and backward messages were indeed found in the works of other rock musicians.

Christian fundamentalists saw the hand of Satan in it, and others speculated on the effects that these subliminal messages might have on people's behavior. Charles Manson was believed to have been driven to kill by backward messages that he heard in the Beatles' "White Album," and Mark Chapman shot John Lennon in 1980 after claiming to have heard voices in Lennon's "Double Fantasy" album telling him to do so. The court system also got involved, including a five-year legal process in which heavy metal music was put on trial in Reno, Nevada, after two young men attempted suicide after listening repeatedly to a Judas Priest album. Attorneys representing the parents of the boys claimed that the album, "Stained Glass," was back-masked with subliminally-implanted backward messages. Still others believe the whole idea of backward messages to be a hoax, intended to sell records.

According to David John Oates, the author of a series of books on the subject, reverse speech is sometimes intentional, but more often unintentional. Nor does he blame Satan.

Backward messages that are not intentional can be heard on other albums. These are messages that were not planned by the artist or any of the recording studio personnel, yet appear randomly throughout many songs, in intelligible, complete, and even grammatically correct sentences. The lyrics and tune of the song are formed in such a manner as to give two messages at the same time, one forward, the other backward.

For example, according to Oates, the John Denver song, "It's About Time," contains the following backward messages: I believe Jesus died for sinners. / He died for sin. / All the more reason to thank you. / More and more I prefer you. He doesn't believe that any of that was intended.

In fact, Oates writes that backward phrases appeared in every sound track he examined over several years and, more often than not, they tended to complement the forward message. The backward messages in Gospel music, or by known Christians, often praised God or explained some theological truth.

After finding backward messages in recorded music across the spectrum, Oates then turned to speech, and found the same thing. In a recording of live commentary of the President Kennedy assassination, the forward message was: "Stand by please. Parkland Hospital, there has been a shooting. Parkland Hospital has been advised to stand by for a severe gunshot wound." In reverse, among some garble, he could clearly hear the following message: "He's shot bad. Hold it. Try and look up."

As with recorded music, Oates found that backward speech occurred in all human speech, and that it often revealed the inner thoughts of the speakers. The reverse message seemed more honest than the forward communication. Interestingly, when video of the speakers was reversed, the backward messages fit in with the body language, including the mouthing of words.

In highly charged emotional states, reverse speech occurred as often as once every three seconds, and about once every ten seconds in casual conversations, while it was found in prepared scripts as little as once every two minutes. Similarly, the frequency and clarity of reverse messages in recorded music was higher when the music was recorded live than in studio recordings.

In his research, Oates found that reverse speech appeared in infants as early as four months of age, long before forward speech began, leading him to believe that babies learned to speak in reverse before they learned to speak forward, which puts baby talk into a different light entirely. At the later stages of infancy, Oates found that babies combined the two modes of speech, forward and backward, into one.

Having ruled out previous explanations for backward messages, such as coincidence, intention, and occult manipulation, because they weren't in keeping with documented facts, Oates theorizes that, as the brain constructs the sounds that form language, it constructs them in such a manner that at least two verbal messages are communicated at the same time: one forward, which is constructed and heard consciously, and another in reverse, which is constructed and heard subconsciously. He also believes that the two modes of speech complement one another, and together communicate the total psyche of the communicator.

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