Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 17

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues.

17 RON MOREHEAD and SCOTT NELSON

In his book Voices In The Wilderness (Mariposa, CA; self-published; 2012; see also http://www.bigfootsounds.com), Ron Morehead promotes the view that Bigfoot/sasquatch (the North American equivalent of the Himalayan yeti) not only clearly exists but communicates using oral forms which (while not readily understood) clearly qualify to be described as language, supposedly in the strict sense of this term (but see below).
Morehead presents (not especially impressive) recordings of some such extracts on a CD which accompanies his book, and on the website his associate Scott Nelson presents transcriptions and discussion of lengthier extracts which he does not readily make available in recorded form (hence my comments below relate to his transcriptions and discussion). In addition, Morehead and Nelson appear reluctant to respond to queries regarding this material. I stress that my comments here are subject to modification as and when I do receive more information from Morehead or Nelson.

The fact that these claims involve a ‘cryptid’ (an animal not recognised by mainstream zoology) renders them all the more dramatic. But, naturally, animals as similar to humans as Bigfoot, if real, would be among the most likely non-humans to manifest behavioural and mental patterns of a linguistic nature.

Obviously, Morehead and his associates mainly cite authors who uphold positive interpretations of the non-linguistic evidence. These writers include some rather dubious commentators such as the Bigfoot-advocate Ivan Sanderson (see Morehead p. 14). Morehead also adopts a rather ‘popular’ and negative ‘anomalist’ view of science as practised by mainstream scientists; and in places (see p. 56) he advances the now widespread ‘New Age’ views regarding (for instance) the applicability of quantum physics to cryptozoology.

Morehead, Nelson and other cited commentators on the material are not trained in linguistics. Specifically, they do not offer explicit definitions of the notion ‘language’, and it is not always clear that they are adequately aware of this issue. Morehead himself can be read as equating ‘coherent’ oral communication – and perhaps even phenomena such as the unexplained clicking and quasi-metallic sounds which he and his associates reportedly heard in the Sierra Nevada – with unfamiliar manifestations of language proper. He is also very ready to interpret sounds heard just after he himself has vocalised as deliberate ‘replies’, even when no entity was actually seen; see for example p. 31.

Nelson for his part clearly knows SOME linguistics; but the term ‘crypto-linguist’, as used here to describe him, seems to refer to a person with skills in interpreting (and perhaps analysing) oral linguistic data heard or recorded in difficult conditions, rather than to a person with training or proficiency in linguistics. Such ‘crypto-linguistic’ skills would of course be RELEVANT here. However, there is a major difference between a) the task of interpreting material in a human language with which one is familiar, heard or recorded in difficult conditions, and b) the much more awkward task of analysing short samples of material which is not only recorded in less than ideal conditions but in addition is (if it is indeed linguistic in nature at all) in an altogether unknown language which is apparently non-human in origin – and thus may share far fewer features with any language known to the analyst than even altogether unrelated human languages might share.

Even some ‘pro-Bigfoot’ investigators (whether or not qualified in linguistics etc.) have expressed themselves dubious as to the claims made for auditory material of the kind in question here. For example, the anthropologist Grover Krantz (Big Footprints; Boulder, CO; Johnson Books; 1992), who regarded the existence of Bigfoot as highly probable, found ‘no compelling reason to believe that any of [the recordings in question] are what the recorders claimed them to be’ and indeed was informed by one of the very ‘university sound specialists’ cited in their support by the claimants that humans could easily imitate such sounds (pp. 133-134). While this information is rather anecdotal in character, it does cast further prima facie doubt upon the value of the ‘specialist’ endorsements of the present set of claims.

Nelson uses an idiosyncratic transcription system, the ‘Sasquatch Phonetic Alphabet’ (or more formally the ‘Unidentified Hominid Phonetic Alphabet’), supposedly a ‘variation of the English Reformed Phonetic Alphabet’. I have not been able to identify the system referred to by this last term, and the use here of the term ‘phonetic’ suggests an amateur source (though other interpretations are possible). Neither Nelson nor Morehead has replied to my queries on this matter. It is also unclear to me why Nelson chose to use a system of this kind in preference to the language-neutral International Phonetic Association Alphabet (IPAA), which would certainly be superior for such purposes to any imitated spelling system based on the phonetics of a specific known language such as English.

Nelson’s actual transcriptions and comments suggest a) that he himself does not in fact know enough linguistics for his purpose here and b) that the phonology of Bigfoot-language, if the language is genuine, appears implausibly similar to those of Indo-European languages and in particular to that of English. (This point is, of course, connected with the decision to transcribe the material into imitated spelling based on English orthography.)

Nelson also seems to believe that phonetic data (notably intonation data) in an altogether unfamiliar and ‘exotic’ language can be used as reliable indicators of: a) the emotional state of the vocalising entity (this might POSSIBLY be so but in a cross-species situation it certainly cannot be taken as given) b) whether or not the ‘utterance’ is a question, a command, a ‘direct response’, etc. Intonation patterns characteristically associated with responses, interrogatives/questions and imperatives/commands vary very considerably between human languages (some of which, for phonological reasons, make MINIMAL grammatical use of intonation) and even between accents/dialects of the same language. It is simply not possible to arrive at such judgments with any reliability when the language in question is unfamiliar, and this is again all the more the case in circumstances such as those in question here.

Ideally, what is needed is a series of analyses of all such recordings which are now or become available, by several independent analysts having suitable expertise, training and qualifications. If the proponents of claims such as these show themselves more willing to co-operate with the world community of scholars, this may eventually be achievable, and we may thus come to understand the true nature of this material.

A much expanded version of the above (with extended comments on Nelson’s transcriptions and discussion) is to appear, in two instalments, in the journal of the British skeptical group ASKE (http://www.aske-skeptics.org.uk/).

More next time!

Mark

PS: For a most interesting current exhibition (in London) on non-mainstream ideas about many subjects, see http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/painting%20&%20drawing/art439636. An excellent book is available to purchase if you can’t make the show itself.

For my own book Strange Linguistics, see:
http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

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7 Responses to Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 17

  1. Nick_Guerchio says:

    My name is Nick Guerchio, and I am one of many people who claims to have translated the Ron Morehead / Al Berry Sierra Sounds recordings into English. Using Scott Nelson, the expert Navy linguist’s transcriptions of the “samurai chatter” in the Sierra Sounds, I have translated about 20 lines of text.

    Nelson found that signs of English language are present in the Morehead tapes, and using English, patterns, gorilla vocalisations, and other theorems, I translated 20 lines of sounds into English. Now, these recordings were studied by a University who proved they were not altered, and proved that no human or animal in North America could make those sounds. All I claim, is that I translated Scott Nelsons transcription of some of the sounds into English. I don’t claim to be correct in all my work, but using deductive reasoning, comparisons, and asking Ron Morehead questions about the situation during the recirding, I have great confidence in the validity of my work.

    The following are some samples of my work, and some examples of words I translated. I will also give some personal insight to the ramifications of my conclusions. Keep in mind, I used no context until the very end, so I simply used the transcribed text to sound out English words. I did not use my beliefs, situational context, or any subconscious force, I simply use linguistic patterns and was able to translate 95% of the text.

    Using my conclusions from my translating study, I asked Ron Morehead questions only he would know, before I listened to the audio recordings. I asked things like, “We’re you laughing?” “We’re you eating?” And so on, and all Ron’s answers confirmed my work. I might not be right, but I’m on the right track.

    Here is the transcripts text, then the following line is my translation:

    0:16.70 WAM VO HÜ KHÖ KHU′
    – “The way is over here. Don’t do that.”
    0:17.52 NÖ U PLÄ MEN TI KHU
    – “Don’t play, now men go.”

    SARCASM!
    0:35.88 WA HEP DÜ TSJE DÜ FU HEP
    – “Want help do you? TSJE do for help.”
    (I believe the Bigfoot’s name is TSJE)
    (Total Sarcasm: “Want help do you? I’ll help..”

    HERE IS PART OF A LINE THAT I HAVENT TELEASED YET, THIS IS NOT THE FULL STATEMENT, BUT I AM NOT EXAGGERATING:

    US FO RI ZIS TENS
    – “Us for resistance.”
    (Yes, the supposed Bigfoot is saying, “We are the resistance.” How can you deny “RI ZIS TENS” is any other word if it’s English?)

    All in all, “resistance” isn’t as creepy as it gets. The Bugfoot say the word “kill” three times. Almost the entire time they are aggressive. Two occasions, the Sasquatch which we think are a male and a female say things that if true is mind-blowing to say the least.

    I have learned a lot from my cryptid linguistic study, and I’m far from done. The only way to confirm it is by doing more work. Therefore, I am looking for some people willing to help me in this study, and possibly join my research team. I need someone to find high quality audio of Sasquatch vocalisations, someone who can transcribe the sounds on the audio, and someone or some people who have a way to confirm or deny my linguistic work. I was thinking someone who knows statistics may be able to use % of error to find the probability I could have come up with my conclusions while being incorrect.

    THIS IS NOT A HOAX OR A LIE!

    If you wish to research myself for further discussion, inquiries, or anything, please email me here:

    sasquatchspeaker@gmail.com

    I AM STARTING A NEW BIGFOOT RESEARCH ORGANIZATION, BASED OUT OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, BUT INCLUDING PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE U.S. OR WORLD.

    My new group, which will be called BROSEF, which stands for Bigfoot Research Organization using Science of Every Field, will be a group dedicated to using scientific and rational methods along with unconventional ideas to make progress in the Sasquatch field of research. As many researchers waste time, going into the woods and might get what they call data, which is in reality sticks and rocks being thrown and screams. We will use efficient means with a specific goals to procure data, which can be used with other data to create real studies.

    Nick Guerchio, as the group’s President, is well-equipped to handle such an organization. I have been a business owner, successful author, legal case manager, hunter, investigative journalist, manager, and other experiences that will assist in this venture. I have had my own Sasquatch encounter, in which I fired upon the multiple Bigfoot trying to scare me out of my camp. Knowing what I know now, Bigfoot shouldn’t be shot unless he is about to attack. I am well prepared for studies, expeditions, and plans to accomplish goals that will assist in BROSEF’s missions, which are to (1) Increase the skeptics and public’s awareness of the existence of a large, bipedal ape, possibly human, living in America’s forests, and (2) Create studies using scientific reasoning and deduction methods to interest mainstream science or a University to assisting in a study to solve a “mystery.” We will also create a national database that can be used to cross heck valuable information.

    This is a non-profit organization, and here are the people we are looking for:
    – Bigfoot Experts
    – Biologists
    – Anthropologists
    – Native Americans
    – Experienced Hunters
    – Trackers
    – Drone Pilots
    – Ex-Military / Tactical Supervisor
    – Linguistic Experts
    – Website Developers
    – GIS Analysts
    – DNA Experts
    – Data Analysts
    – Zoologists
    – Secretary / Dispatcher
    – Bigfoot Authors / Blog / Website Owners
    – ANYBODY WHO HAS A TECHNICAL SKILL THAT MAY ASSIST THE HUNT FOR SASQUATCH EVIDENCE

    Send resume or personal information plus why you would be a crucial part of our professional BROSEF Team to

    sasquatchspeaker@gmail.com

    Thank you all!
    – Nicholas Guerchio

  2. marknewbrook says:

    This comment by Guerchio is worded rather oddly in places, and I may be misunderstanding it; if so, I would welcome correction.

    Anyone discussing the Morehead/Nelson material should now refer to the extended professional skeptical-linguistic treatments of the claims in question by me (see ‘Bigfoot Talk: Claims Regarding The ‘Language’ Of Cryptids: Part 1: Background And Issues’, in The Skeptical Intelligencer 16:3 (2013), pp 9-13, and ‘Bigfoot Talk: Claims Regarding The ‘Language’ Of Cryptids: Part 2: The Data’, in: The Skeptical Intelligencer 16:4 (2013), pp 7-13) and by Karen Stollznow (see http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/bigfoot-in-mouth-bigfoot-language/). The points which Stollznow and I make should be taken on board, and if writers such as Guerchio think they can rebut our points they should attempt this.

    The term ‘translation’ is being misused here. If material is actually in English, it obviously does not require translation into English, only transcription/transliteration and explication.

    Although Nelson interprets the material with an obvious ‘bias’ towards English (surprisingly close correspondence of the sounds in question with English phones, etc., etc.), I am not aware that he ‘found that signs [what does this word mean in context?] of English language are present in the Morehead tapes’. Reference, please?

    Guerchio says: ‘these recordings were studied by a University who proved they were not altered, and proved that no human or animal in North America could make those sounds’. Such studies are not carried out by universities but by individual scholars or teams of scholars who work in universities. Guerchio must tell us who exactly ‘proved’ these things, and must provide specific references to the academic literature. Otherwise such statements count for nothing.

    The notion that sasquatches are speaking English appears thoroughly implausible. If one starts off with such an assumption or guess, however, it is often possible to misperceive utterances as being in the favoured language, even where non-human vocalising is in question. John Lilly eventually came to believe that dolphins were speaking to him in English. In fact, the transcriptions given here do not appear impressively similar to English words/syllables.

    As I said in ‘Bigfoot Talk Part 2’, it is unclear to me why Nelson, who is identified as a linguist, chose to use an imitated spelling system of the kind shown here (as now used also by Guerchio) in preference to the language-neutral International Phonetic Association Alphabet (IPAA). IPAA is much the most versatile, precise and unambiguous system so far devised for the transcription of hitherto undescribed languages, and is certainly superior for such purposes to any imitated spelling system based on the phonetics of a specific known language such as English. In addition, it is not clear how Nelson or Guerchio can be as confident as they are that the ‘language’ under scrutiny here is non-human and at the same time cheerfully transcribe it into imitated spelling based on the phonology of (a) human language(s). Even transcriptions into language-neutral IPAA could be challenged in this context.

    If Guerchio and his associates are willing to acquire a higher level of linguistic sophistication than is displayed here, and also willing to accept that professional linguists and other scholars will be VERY skeptical (but not dogmatically so) about all such claims about sasquatch communication (and indeed about the very existence of sasquatch), cooperation along the lines suggested may be possible.

    Mark Newbrook

    • Nick_Guerchio says:

      Hey Mark, thanks for the response. I apologize for the lack of organization in my writing and lack or sources. So far, I have just been writing my work to gather interest and assistance in my research. I also try to write so all audiences can comprehend. I am starting to focus more on professional writing.

      Here’s a short but important sample of what to me is an obvious example of how Sasquatch is speaking English.

      1:13.77 Ä LÄF
      – “I laugh.”

      1:16.01 KHÖ VË ÄER ZÏ
      – “Cover your yourself”

      Here are my sources, which I did not include Scott Nelson’s work because I figured you have looked into that.

      SUMMARY OF UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING AND UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA FINDINGS

      These recordings later became the subject of a year-long University of Wyoming-based engineering study to determine their authenticity and to understand the nature of the vocalizations relative to those of humans and other primates. The results of that study were published by the University of British Columbia Press in 1980 in ?Manlike Monsters on Trial,? an anthology of professional papers presented at a 1978 UBC-sponsored symposium entitled Anthropology of the Unknown. The study concluded that the unusual vocalizations were primate in origin, and that at least one of the voices exceeded normal human ranges. Although the study did not rule out the possibility of human source, it established that the vocalizations were spontaneous at the time of recording and that there was no evidence of pre-recording or re-recording at altered tape speed.

      HUMAN SOUND EXPERT NANCY LOGAN

      Ms. Logan is a court certified interpreter in California, Oregon and Washington. She is certified in Spanish and Japanese, and in fact, the only person in California who is certified in those two languages. She is also what they call a registered interpreter in French, and also speaks Italian and Russian. She has translated and/or interpreted in all of those languages in courts, and in various other settings (she translated the Russian book for Ray [Crowe]). She has a bachelor’s degree in Romance Languages from the University of Oregon, but learned most of the languages by living overseas, and/or working with people from other countries, in other words, HEARING them. Read Ms. Logan’s thoughts on the Sierra Sounds below.
      I don’t think Homo sapiens sapiens can make all of these noises and in this fashion. I’ve heard and practiced a lot of known human language sounds and vocalizations and these don’t fit any of them and I can’t make these noises. One example of this is that the ‘whistling’ noises they make sound to me like they are coming from the throat. I don’t know any human who can do that, though with practice someone might??? [Sound analysis of the whistles shows they are harmonic and do not originate at the lips, as would an ordinary human whistle, AB]. This (that the noise is not human) does not rule out that it is language. The vocalizations seem to have some elements of language to me, i.e. certain repeated phoneme patterns and a certain organization to the chattering.
      These creatures have an incredible range of voice and ability to make different noises…possibly able to imitate the noises of many forest creatures?? Maybe a lot of people have heard them throughout the years and just didn’t know it because they thought they are animals.
      It would take an incredible amount of training for a human to make these noises so fluently and spontaneously. The noises also include vocalizations made with what sounds like parts of their vocal tract that native English speakers would have tremendous trouble in learning.
      They are trying to communicate with you.

      DR. RODNEY LYNN KIRLIN

      Dr. Rodney Lynn Kirlin was a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Wyoming from September 1968 through December 1986. His research included hearing testing using EEG signal and sonar array processing. Learn about Dr. R. Lynn Kirlin’s report on the Sierra Sounds below.
      Dr. Kirlin’s complete report on the Sierra Sounds was given at a UBC Conference held in Vancouver, BC, in 1978. It was subsequently published in a book, “Manlike Monsters on Trial,” UBC Press. The following are excerpts from that report.
      Having analyzed a tape-recording of purported Bigfoot speech using accepted techniques of signal processing, the authors conclude that the means and ranges of the recorded pitch and estimated vocal tract length of the speakers indicate that the sounds were made by a creature with “features corresponding to a larger physical size than man.” They also conclude that the tape shows none of the expected signs of being prerecorded or rerecorded at altered speed and hence diminish the probability of a hoax.
      Assuming 5’11” to be the height for an average man, 115 Hz his average pitch, and 17.8 cm his average tract length, the creature or creatures on the recording, using all data shown, may be estimated to have a proportional height of 7’3” by pitch or 6’$” by tract length. Data from the “grr” or growl sounds alone shows quite different means, and yield heights of 8’@” by pitch and 7’4” by tract length.
      The results indicate more than on speaker, one or more of which is of larger physical size than an average human adult male… The formant frequencies found were clearly lower than for human data and their distribution does not indicate that they were a product of human vocalizations and tape speed alteration. Although a time-varying speed could possibly produce such formant distributions, an objective hearing and the articulation rate do not support that hypothesis… It is hoped that the remaining uncertainties will not be considered reason for dismissing the recordings. The possibilities for prerecording are many, but there is no clear reason to believe it is likely. If Bigfoot is actually proven to exist, the vocalizations on these tapes may well be of great anthropological value, being a unique observation of Bigfoot in his natural environment

      So Mark, what’s your opinion of Sasquatch linguistics? Is there any questions you have regarding the subject that I may attempt to give my two cents? If I can find people to collect quality audio recordings and transcribe vocal sounds, I would be able to possibly further my research but more importantly finally conclude the validity of my work of turning Sasquatch vocal sounds into English. If “translation” is not the correct word, what’s the right word to describe turning vic sounds into English?

      Also, I will look at your work tomorrow and get back to you with my responses. I was also a skeptic, until I had two or three Sasquatch surround my tent in the remote forest of Big Sur, CA.

      • Nick_Guerchio says:

        Oh, and Mark, I would love to work on a more sophisticated level with others and I understand the large amount of skepticism that comes in the cryptid field, but in prepared to take the risk.

  3. marknewbrook says:

    Thanks, Nick

    Your aim to be understood by non-specialised readers is wholly noble (although this is not always easy where the ideas involved are technical). But this must not become an excuse for poorly-supported, inaccurate or misleading presentations of the material. Maybe you need to produce two versions of each text. The technical version should be presented first and comment taken on board, before the ‘popular’ version appears.

    I do not want to repeat myself, so I will refrain from extensive comment until you can show that you have engaged with the critiques of the Nelson/Morehead claims regarding sasquatch communication made by Karen Stollznow and me.

    Like the vast majority of skeptics and mainstream scientists, I am not persuaded that sasquatch exists (though I respect the dissenting minority – Grover Krantz, etc.). Individual anecdotal reports of encounters, and (even more so) subjective impressions as to the sources of sounds or the intentions of the supposed sound-makers, do not persuade us; for us, they are the wrong kind of evidence. But the issue HERE is the true nature of what you regard as linguistic material. Whether or not sasquatches exist, and whether or not these sequences are actually sasquatch utterances, your claims regarding their status as ‘language’, and your more specific identifications (‘English’), can in principle be assessed independently. And, if the sequences really are genuinely anomalous in some ways, this makes them especially interesting in this context.

    Of course, any claim to the effect that non-humans are using language (especially a human language) is automatically highly controversial, but such claims MIGHT (conceivably) be correct and if they are properly presented they can and should be assessed.

    It is difficult to assess how closely the supposed utterances which you transcribe here resemble English sequences, because (like Nelson) you have chosen to use an idiosyncratic and unfamiliar imitated-spelling system rather than the internationally recognised IPAA. But from my extensive experience in skeptical linguistics I can say that as far as CAN be judged the ‘similarities’ which you find here are no more precise or compelling than many other such ‘similarities’ adduced by non-linguists in support of non-mainstream claims about texts said to be in unexpected human languages or about unrecognised relationships between human languages. Given the dramatic nature of the claim that sasquatches (a) exist, (b) speak and (c) use English, much better evidence than this would be needed to support the suggestion that English is present here (see Ockam’s Razor). In short, I am not impressed at present, and I am confident that other linguists would share my position here.

    If we could HEAR the material, we MIGHT (conceivably) be more impressed. And, if you could explain and exemplify your transcription system, we could then also assess your specific transcriptions.

    I have read Kirlin and Hertel’s ‘Estimates of pitch and vocal track length from recorded vocalisations of purported Bigfoot’ in Manlike Monsters on Trial: Early Records and Modern Evidence. This material is very interesting, but of course the study did not actually rule out the possibility of a human source. Again, given the dramatic nature of the claims, this is not good enough evidence to support a dramatic position.

    You will see from my reviews of Morehead/Nelson that Logan seems to have little or no actual training in linguistics. Nelson himself obviously knows some linguistics, but too all appearances his expertise in the discipline is seriously lacking. Karen Stollznow and I agree that neither of these people can be regarded as genuine linguists. Anything they say about linguistic issues has to be assessed like any other non-specialist material.

    Vis-à-vis the term ‘translation’: what do you mean by ‘turning vic sounds into English’? What are ‘vic sounds’?

    Awaiting more from you.

  4. marknewbrook says:

    Nick, if you are having trouble accessing my papers on Morehead & Nelson, I can send you copies if you give me your preferred email address.

    I also have a review of Christopher Noel’s two recent books on ‘the mind of the sasquatch’ which I could send you (I take it that you’ve seen these books).

    Mark

  5. bbnewsab says:

    Just three curious questions:

    1) Where did Bigfoot learn how to speak English? In school? Maybe by looking at American programs on tv?

    2) And then, who taught them the English language? Emigrants from Europe (England)? Modern day Americans? Indians?

    3) And finally, are there any Homo sapiens teachers (or ordinary people) who know the native language spoken by Bigfoot?

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