1. Break the word or phrase into phonemes.
  2. Reverse the order of the phonemes
  3. Reverse each phoneme
though the last two operations are usually combined into a single operation.


Ladies and gentlemen
  ----Ladies--------   ---and---   ----------gentlemen----------
 l | ay | d | ee | s | a | n | d | j | e | n | t | l | m | e | n
   |    |   |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |

 n | e | m | l | t | n | e | j | d | n | a | s | ee | d | ay | l
 n | e | m | l | ' | n | e | j'| d | n | a'| s | ee | d | ye | l'
 neml'nej' dna' seedyel'

Note that the apostrophes here are glottal stops.

Guidelines for reversing phonemes

  • When considering the whole phrase, reverse all characteristics: pitch, intonation and emphasis

    For example, a phrase with a rising pitch (such as a question), becomes falling pitch when reversed.

  • Reverse the envelope

    Audible sounds have a natural attack and decay curve, called the envelope. During attack, the volume of the sound increases, and during decay, the volume decreases. When a sound is reversed, the attack becomes the decay and the decay becomes the attack.

    What we are concerned with here is the duration. A sound with long attack and decay has a similar envelope when reversed; similarly a sound with short attack and decay (such as a plosive consonant).

    A leading vowel, i.e. one beginning a word, has a short attack curve and a long decay curve. When this is reversed, it acquires a glottal stop, for the short decay curve. Indeed, this applies to leading fricatives as well. Vowels and fricatives which are not leading, blend into the previous phoneme; there is no short attack curve, hence no glottal stop when reversed.

  • Reversing vowels

    Vowel sounds can be divided into single vowels and diphthongs. A diphthong is a transition between two vowel sounds. To reverse this needs the opposite transition of vowel sounds, e.g. we becomes you.

    In addition, reversing a leading vowel acquires a glottal stop (see above), and a trailing vowel (which it not glottal) acquires an aspirant "h" when reversed to give a long attack. For example, reversing acme gives heemka' . Note that this process happens the other way round also: how becomes waa, whereas ow gets a glottal stop and becomes waa' .

  • Reversing fricative consonants

    In a similar fashion to vowels, leading fricatives acquire a glottal stop when reversed.

  • Reversing plosive consonants

    Plosive phonemes are normally leading sounds to a syllable. When reversed, they become trailing, which feels unnatural to English speakers. These can acquire or be replaced by a glottal stop like the "t" in the "Ladies and gentlemen" example above.

How to see how good you are at talking backwards

Besides the tape recorder method, described in the node "how to play music backwards", there is a much simpler method, requiring a PC with a sound card, speakers (obviously) and a microphone. The standard Windows utility "Sound Recorder" has a function under Effects, called Reverse.

chkul' dorg'

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