Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 5th, 2008
The Sierra Sounds are a series of disputed audio recordings of the alleged chatter of Bigfoot in the mountains of the American West. Captured on tape by Ron Morehead and Al Berry, at their “Sierra Camp” in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, eastern California, at various times during the first half of the 1970s, they have been the focus of much study.
The well-known Bigfoot tracker Robert W. Morgan has pointed out in the past that he had heard the phrase “You’re not welcome” on the recordings, evidence he felt that the reported Sasquatch were trying to communicate with the humans.
The following is the latest analysis of those tapes, which are being claimed as a “breakthrough” by Morehead, Berry, and their supporter Morgan, among others.
The Berry & Morehead expeditions collected the recordings in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California by hanging a microphone from a tree branch. Meanwhile, inside their shelter, journalist Al Berry of the Sacramento Bee had run a cord from the mic outside to a reel-to-reel audio recording deck inside their rustic log shelter.
The cabin was a large, teepee-shaped log structure built by hunters. The Bigfoot would run away when Berry and Morehead would come out of the structure, and the men could see nothing from inside their shelter. The supposed creatures in the woods were heard but never seen. It is assumed, therefore, they were Bigfoot.
I must point out the obvious, which is that, while the credibility of Morehead, Berry, or even the linguist’s report below may be beyond reproach, there is no firm verification of what creatures, hominoids, or humans are the source of these recordings, per se.
The following notes, analysis, and long background material on language, in general, is given below:
Dear Al and Ron;
We have verified that these creatures use language, by the human definition of it. The months of hard work that we have put into the study of the Berry/Morehead tapes is finally coming to fruition. The analysis is finished, although I am still working on parts of the final write-up such as frequency count tables, morpheme lists, etc.
I believe that the study of these tapes will never (and should never) end. With the recognition and acceptance that these creatures do indeed speak and understand a complex language, a greater effort will be made to collect voice recordings and our analysis of the language will improve. Now that we have a precedent and techniques established for this study, this process will certainly become easier. Scott Nelson, crypto Linguist.
Characteristics of Human Language
Evident in the Berry/Morehead Tapes
By R. Scott Nelson
The Functions, Properties and Elements of human language as given here are defined by the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University:
Functions of Language
Certain functions of language are indistinguishable from language itself, namely; Communication and Thinking. Verbal communication, the conveyance of symbolic meaning through utterance is the very purpose of language. Therefore, any vocalization that contains morphemes, or units of meaning, is indeed serving this purpose.
Thinking is tantamount to how we define ourselves as human beings, the mental process that makes us “sentient” and separates us from “lesser” species. Language as the means by which we communicate our thoughts is inseparable from thinking; when we form thoughts we do so in a certain language. We cannot conceive of an object such as a tree without forming the word “tree” in our minds, and thus the thought and the word become one. The unitary principle of Thought/Language is inherent in our subject/object relationships.
The degree of influence on Western thought patterns as a result of the invention of a phonetic alphabet is open to speculation. Cultures that lack a phonetic alphabet are assumed by many to have retained a more holistic understanding of their environment. What is clear is that Western human thought patterns have become linear, and these patterns have a close correlation to the development and expression of our languages.
All this may be delving a bit too deeply into Psycholinguistics for our purpose, but since the creatures in our study are using language, these speculations may serve to alert us to the homo-centric tendency to classify Bigfoot into one group or another. Is Bigfoot an animal, or is he Human? Is he or is he not sentient? Does he think in linear patterns or more holistically? Here we must not forget the tertium quid that Bigfoot may be very different from any creature ever classified. We cannot assume that he has not developed a graphic system for expressing language, simply because we have not discovered it. In fact, there is much evidence that he uses the forest itself, by means of broken and twisted limbs, to build elaborate communicative formations which humans often mistake for storm damage or dismiss as territorial markers. These formations could be a much more complex form of communication than we imagine. Likewise, we cannot assume that Bigfoot has not developed technology, just because he has not electrified and digitized his world. Again, the forest itself may be his machine, engineered to facilitate his existence. We cannot assume that he is incapable of creating fire; he may simply choose not to. In the end, we must be careful not to assign the language of Bigfoot or his thought patterns to any one humanly contrived pigeonhole, while at the same time analyzing his language by the human definition of it.
Intimidation, as a function of human language, is heard throughout the recordings, specifically on the Berry Tape in what has previously been dubbed “samurai chatter” and which I have come to refer to as “Hostility Assertion”. These are vocalized by a drawn out stream of morphemes, often repeated, which are articulated at high volume in a highly hostile tone (BI-5:32.42 – BI-6:35.60). Several of these Hostility Assertions are articulated as forceful ululations in which the streamed morphemes may not have specific meaning in the sense of being semantically discrete. These ululations have an extremely intimidating effect on the listener and may be utilized solely for this purpose
Persuasion and Instruction: If we accept the argument that the creatures are at times speaking in cognatic words and phrases, then persuasive and instructive utterances are found throughout the recordings and can be referenced in the line-by-line analysis of the transcripts. Other than these cognatic phrases, since we are dealing with an unknown language, persuasive and instructive utterances must be inferred from the recognizable inflective modulation of the voice in such utterances. These are also found throughout the recordings.
Emotional Expression: If we presume that Sasquatch possesses similar emotional sensibilities as humans and would express them in a similar fashion, then indeed we find emotional utterances throughout the Berry/Morehead recordings. We can infer much of this from modulations in pitch, tone and degree of agitation in the voice, and from the meaning of presumed cognatic expressions. Since emotion is so often swayed by external environmental stimuli, it is easy to understand why the range of emotions expressed by the creatures during this confrontation between species, would be quite narrow: apprehension, aggravation, and hostility are most common. However, there are many instances where curiosity, wonder and (…). This last instance is also evidentiary to the Entertainment Function of human language.
Ritual, defined as a practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner, is another important function of language. There is a great body of evidence, documented by witnesses as well as researchers, of the practice of signal drumming by means of wood knocking or rock bashing. These would certainly constitute a ritualistic form of communication. We can assume that the creatures are not drumming out a coded alphabet such as Morse Code, since the signals are broadcast in set patterns of short duration. However, something is being communicated through this behavior.
Vocally, there are numerous ‘whistles’ and ‘whoops’ expressed on the tapes. I do not presume these have semantic meaning but are ritualistic in nature and could serve any purpose from a mating call to an assertion of dominance over his clan. There is one morpheme stream (or possible word) on the Morehead tape that is of particular interest here. I believe it to have semantic meaning as well as being a ritualistic expression. I infer this on the basis of several factors: it is repeated numerous times by the presumed female creature with an almost song-like quality to her voice; it is given in response by the presumed male in a manner suggestive of ritual; it is used in several morphological variations in combination with other morphemes. Variations of the word include: “VÖ WÄ KÖ,” VÖ WÄ” and “WÄ KÖ” (M-12:48.56 – M-12:13.62 and again at M-20:48.77 – M-22:40.79).
Properties of Language
There are certain properties that are necessary components of human language and are present in any system that utilizes phonemes and morphemes to construct meaningful utterances as evident in the vocalizations on the Berry/Morehead tapes. These properties include:
Lexical and Semantic: Lexical, as a property of language, describes the combining of morphemes into words of infinite variation. Semantics is implicit in any vocal language and defines morphemes and words as minimal units of sound which possess symbolic meaning and are used to communicate thought (see Index of Articulated Morphemes and Index of Possible Words).
Learnable: To be defined as language, it must be a system that is learnable. Any system in which articulated morphemes are presumed to have meaning, must also be presumed to have been assimilated through observation or demonstration by one member of the society to another; such as a parent teaching words to a child.
Conventional: All semantic meaning within a language system must be conventional in the sense that it is based on usage and custom, and is therefore understood by all members of a given society. Any system that practices conversational turns of utterance, as demonstrated by the creatures in our study, must be understood to possess linguistic convention.
Automatized: Speech perception and parsing are generally considered to be automatized mechanisms. These are defined as actions that are carried out unconsciously or at such a rate of speed that they are unable to be modified or interrupted by purposeful intent. Since the vocalized exchanges of the creatures are articulated so rapidly, they easily meet the criteria for an automatized language system.
Arbitrary: A language is considered arbitrary when it possesses words in which the sounds of articulated morphemes bear no relationship to their meaning. This is in opposition to words based on sound symbolism or phonetic imitation of actual sounds, such as “crash” or “bash.” At this point there have been no words or morphemes noted in the creature utterances which have any resemblance to any specific sound in his natural environment. Allowing for the possibility that the creatures may perceive sound in a very different way than humans, and though we cannot presume to know the meanings of any non-cognate words, we must still judge that most of the morphemes collected from the tapes are arbitrary in nature.
Creative: Linguistic creativity refers to the ability to produce and understand an infinitely large number of utterances, whether or not they have been heard before. Because many of the other properties of language are present in the vocalizations and because of the seemingly endless variation by which the creatures combine morphemes to construct utterances, we can conclude that their language is creative as well as hierarchically combinatoric (phonemes are used to construct morphemes, which are used to construct words, which are used to construct utterances, etc.).
Open: Language is dynamic: it changes constantly. It evolves quickly, even from one generation to the next. In this way, language can be seen as a living, evolving entity, open to all the influences of its specific environment. All human language is open in the sense that new words and phrases from a wide variety of sources enter our languages every day. It is here that the most compelling evidence is found for the subject creatures use of language. (…) (the argument for the presence of cognates is found in Analysis of Cognate Words and Phrases).
The various systems of language such as Phonology, Morphology, Semantics, Syntax and Grammar, as they apply to the subject language, cannot yet be described (outside of cognatic utterances) due to the limited volume of creature language collected here. This will certainly change in time. With the recognition and acceptance that the creatures do indeed speak and understand a complex language, a greater effort will be made to collect voice recordings and our analysis of the language will improve.
There is one system of language, however, that must be discussed here since it explains why these vocalizations have never before been recognized as language: the Prosody of utterance. The intonation contour, stress pattern and speed (approximately twice the speed of human speech) at which the vocalizations are delivered makes it impossible for humans to understand. In addition to this, the rate of discourse, or the speed of exchange of conversational turns is such that the creatures are virtually “stepping on” each other in their responses. This also makes it impossible, in real time, to distinguish the utterance of one creature from that of another. The conclusion that must be drawn here is that the creatures mentally process information at a much higher rate than humans do, or at least they are able to communicate their ideas much faster. Some might argue that the creatures are able to do this because their thoughts are much simpler, but I think this would be a very homo-centric way of looking at this issue.
Elements of Language
Since we are dealing with an unknown language, several elements of human language cannot be described by examples found in the tapes. We do not yet know the meanings of any non-cognate words, therefore, phrases, sentences and grammatical categories such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. cannot be known. However, we must assume that similar components are extant in the vocalizations, since we find so many other elements of human language present.
Phoneme: a minimal distinctive sound unit used to form morphemes. Not only are phonemes present in the vocalizations, but they are so phonetically similar to human phonemes that we must conclude they are articulated by the same apparatus as that of humans, i.e. with the tongue, lips and teeth. (see Transcription Key and Frequency Count Table)
Morpheme: a minimal linguistic unit of meaning; a stem, a minimal word or what is commonly referred to as a syllable. Other than ululations, whoops and whistles, human-like morphemes constitute virtually all of the vocalizations collected (see Index of Morphemes).
Word: These are notoriously hard to define in comparing languages of different structural types, but for our purposes: a unit of expression comprised of one or more morphemes which is intuitively recognized by native speakers of a language and which is relatively uninterruptible or with few pauses in pronunciation (see Index of Possible Words).
Utterance: a stream of spoken morphemes or words (evident throughout the recordings, see Line-by-Line Analysis).
Discourse: a spoken utterance of some length or a set of connected utterances (evident throughout the recordings, see Line-by-Line Analysis).
Conversational Turns: alternating utterances that make up a discourse among several speakers. These communicative exchanges take place so rapidly, in real time, that it is difficult to distinguish one speaker from the next (evident throughout the recordings, see Line-by-Line Analysis).
Articulated Phonetic Structures
After the definition of each phonetic term, articulated phonemes are given as transcribed. Note that some phonemes fall under more than one type. For a full list of phonemes and their pronunciation, see Transcription Key.
Made by pressing both lips together; B, P, M.
The top teeth meet the bottom lip; F, V.
Alveolars and Dentals:
The tongue-tip is touching the back of, or the ridge behind the top-front teeth; T, D, N.
The tongue is sticking out between the front teeth; ?, T.
The flat part of the tongue is touching behind the alveolar ridge; SJ, TSJ.
The flat part of the tongue is against the hard palate; JÜ.
The back of the tongue is pushing up against the soft palate; K, G, KH.
The back of the tongue is pushing up toward the uvula; Rr.
Made by bringing the walls of the throat closer together; KH.
Glottals or Glottal Stops:
A break between vowels sounds, made by contraction of the diaphragm; ‘.
Orally or Nasally Stopped Articulations:
Completely blocks off air through the mouth; P, T, K, M, N.
When two sounds occur, one right after the other then fricate; DZJ.
The air is partially blocked so that friction occurs; F, S, H.
The tongue or lips shape the mouth cavity to create some air restriction; L, R, W, Y.
Caused by vibration of the vocal chords; B, V, D, Z, T.
With no vocal chord vibration; P, K, T, F, S.
Voiceless with a strong puff of air; P, K, T, ?.
The tongue is close to the top of the mouth while the front of the tongue shapes the vowel; Ï, I, Ü, U.
The tongue is close to the bottom of the mouth while the middle part of the tongue shapes the vowel; Ä.
The tongue is close to the bottom of the mouth while the back of the tongue shapes the vowel; A.
The tongue is halfway between the top and bottom of the mouth while the front of the tongue shapes the vowel; Ë, E.
The tongue is halfway between the top and bottom of the mouth while the back of the tongue shapes the vowel; Ö, O.
Scott Nelson Qualifications:
R. Scott Nelson is a retired U.S. Navy Crypto-Linguist with over 30 years experience in Foreign Language and Linguistics, including the Collection, Transcription, Analysis and Reporting of voice communications.
He is a two time graduate of the U.S. Navy Cryptologic Voice Transcription School (Russian and Spanish) and has logged thousands of hours of voice transcription in his target languages as well as in Persian. He is currently teaching Russian, Spanish, Persian, Philosophy and Comparative Religions at Wentworth College in Missouri.
His pertinent Curriculum Vitae follows:
R. Scott Nelson
Eleven years on the Faculty of Philosophy and Languages at Wentworth College,
Lexington, Missouri; teaching Russian, Persian and Spanish as well several Philosophy and Religion courses.
Retired U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Interpreter (Crypto-Linguist), worked for Naval Intelligence at the following duty stations: Naval Security Group Activity (NSGA), Rota, Spain; Naval Security Group Detachment Galeta Island, Panama; NSGA Homestead, Florida; NSGA Edzell, Scotland and aboard the following afloat units: USS Coronado, USS Belknap, USS Deyo, USS Bigelow, USS Sphynx; serving in the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
Two time graduate of the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center, Monterey, California (Russian and Spanish).
Two time graduate of the U.S. Navy Cryptologic Voice Transcription School at Naval Security Group Detachment (NSGD), San Angelo, Texas (Russian and Spanish).
Graduate of U.S. Navy Communications Intelligence Analysis and Reporting School at NSGD, San Angelo, Texas.
Acquired the Persian Language while assigned to afloat platforms in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. These platforms had Persian as their primary target language.
Logged thousands of hours of collection and transcription of voice communications as a Cryptologic Interpreter for the U.S. Navy.
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