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Audio Analysis Confirms Armstrong’s Syntax Error

June 4, 2009

Upon landing on the surface of the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered the historic phrase: “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

However, after returning to Earth, Armstrong claimed that he thought he had said “one small step for a man.”

Forensic linguist John Olsson and Dr Chris Riley, author of the new book Apollo 11, An Owners Manual, studied high quality recordings of the iconic mission and studied Armstrong’s speech patterns to determine if, in fact, the “a” had been lost in transmission.

“For me that phrase is of great significance,” Dr Riley told BBC News.

“It has been an important part of my life and those words sum up much of the optimism of the later part of the 20th Century.”

Olsson and Riley used archive audio of Armstrong talking along with a re-digitized, uncompressed version of the original magnetic tape recordings from Johnson Space Center in Houston.

They are presenting their research at the Cheltenham Science Festival this week.

They found that the high quality recordings show that there was no room between words for “a”. A voice print spectrograph clearly shows the “r” in “for” and “m” in “man” are sequential.

“It’s perfectly clear that there was absolutely no room for the word ‘a’,” said Olsson.

In 2006, an Australian entrepreneur used lower quality recordings to show that there was a gap between “for” and “man” in Armstrong’s historic line.

But the new research shows that the recording got it right, and what Armstrong meant to say, was never said.

Researchers also showed that the intonation of Armstrong’s phrase shows a rising pitch in the word “man” and a falling pitch when he says “mankind”, which “indicates that he’s doing what we all do in our speech, he was contrasting using speech – indicating that he knows the difference between man and mankind and that he meant man as in ‘a man’ not ‘humanity’,” said Olsson.

Olsson also addressed a theory that Armstrong used a script to make his proclamation from the lunar surface.

“When you look at the pictures, you see that he’s moving as he is speaking. He says his first word ‘that’s’ at the moment he puts his foot on the ground. When he says ‘one giant leap for mankind’, he moves his body,” he said.

“As well as this, there is no linking conjunction such as ‘and’ or ‘but’ between the two parts of the sentence. So it’s for all those reasons that we think this is a completely spontaneous speech.”

“When you look at the whole expression there’s a symmetry about this. If you put the word ‘a’ in, it would totally alter the poetic balance of the expression,” he added.

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