When Being From Central Ohio Affects World History’s Recollection “For A” Time

moon_landing_armstrongPop quiz: What did Neil Armstrong say when he first stepped onto the moon? If you think you know the answer, you might be wrong.

At least if you believe Neil himself.

When taken by itself, “That’s one small step for man,” makes perfect sense. But when you throw in the second clause of, “one giant leap for mankind,” it doesn’t quite fit proper grammar. It’s basically saying Armstrong’s step was both a small step and a giant step for all of man or mankind, which are interchangeable. What would make more sense was if Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for a man.”

And that’s exactly what he claims to have said. In fact, there have been several studies on the audio transmission from the moon in an attempt to determine if the word “a” is hidden somewhere in the static. Results? Inconclusive. With all of the static coming through the line, it’s difficult to tell whether Armstrong said exactly what he had planned to say, or if in his excitement of the moment he forgot to say the tiny little “a” between for and man. A new study from Ohio State’s Language Perception Laboratory, however, might help back up the American legend.

The study took data from the Buckeye Speech Corpus, which recorded the speech of 40 individuals living around the Columbus area, including those from areas very near to Armstrong’s own Wapakoneta. The researchers took 191 individual instances of people saying “for a” in the recordings and analyzed them. They discovered that, on average, people with a central Ohio accent take 0.127 seconds to say both of the phrases “for” and “for a”.

So what’s that mean? In short, people from the region pretty much always blur “for a” together so that it is nearly impossible to hear both words distinctly, even in the best of conditions.

“And speaking from the moon is not the best of conditions,” said Mark Pitt, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State. “When you combine a casual speaking style with the issues of lunar transmission, it isn’t hard to understand why it was difficult to hear whether Amstrong said this single word. But based on what we found, it is reasonable to assume that Armstrong could have said ‘for a’ as he claimed.”

Don’t worry, Neil. I’ll take your word for it.

Other collaborators on the study included lead author Melissa Baese-Berk; Laura Dilley; Stephanie Schmidt; Jesse Nagel; and Tuuli Morrill, all of Michigan State University. The findings were presented at the 21st International Congress of Acoustics held on Friday, June 7, in Montreal.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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