UO linguist will explore Neil Armstrong's missing moon letter

Bootprint on lunar surface

When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969, the world heard him proclaim “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But the world might have misheard the astronaut, according to research from UO linguistics professor Melissa Baese-Berk.Melissa Baese-Berk

Baese-Berk will dive into these findings and highlight other case studies that can help people understand the complexities of speech and language in an upcoming Quack Chat. The case studies will explore matters like the many song lyrics commonly confused by listeners. Sound familiar?

“Many factors, such as noise, complicated dialogue and accents force listeners to decipher ambiguous words,” Baese-Berk said. “Listeners use a variety of tools to decode language in challenging conditions.”

Sometimes, listeners get it right. And sometimes they think Creedence Clearwater Revival is crooning about “a bathroom on the right” instead of “a bad moon on the rise.” Or, they might not accurately decipher an astronaut’s speech amid a noisy lunar landing.

Baese-Berk will explain the cognitive processes behind producing and understanding language in her talk and discuss why it matters, beyond lending credibility to Neil Armstrong’s claim that he actually said “one small step for a man,” even though people didn't catch the "a." She will also cover the basics of linguistics, which is anything but basic.

“When you consider how complex language is, it is remarkable we are able to speak and listen with seemingly little effort,” Baese-Berk explained. “My research aims to better understand what actually goes into the production and perception of speech.”

Her talk will be Wednesday, April 12, at 6 p.m. at the Erb Memorial Union’s Falling Sky Pizzeria. It is free and open to the public.

Participants are encouraged to ask questions and engage in a conversation with the researcher during the presentation. The talk is part of a series of events that falls under the umbrella of Quack Chats, a public outreach initiative led by University Communications.

Other talks this month include UO human physiologist Anita Christie’s “Functional Declines with Aging and Injury: It's all About the Nervous System” on April 13 at 6 p.m. at Whirled Pies Downtown, 199 W. Eighth Ave. And UO psychologist Paul Slovic will deliver his talk “Decision Making in a Dangerous World” on April 26 at 6 p.m. at the Erb Memorial Union’s Falling Sky Pizzeria.

Run with a Researcher, another opportunity to converse with UO researchers, returns Saturday, April 29, for a special Spring Family Weekend edition. Participants can run or walk a few miles with one of the UO’s world-class researchers. Meet up at 8 a.m. starting at the Erb Memorial Union’s “O” Desk.

By Emily Halnon, University Communications