EVP linguistics

  • Messages spoken through EVP have the capability to portray the linguistic characteristics of the mortal voice belonging to an individual. Our recognition of speakers who actively assist and guide our research, is aided by their distinctive national and regional accents. This aspect of the phenomena has given us the confidence to identify and place our trust in communicators who engaged in post-mortem research before passing over, and whose interest in the subject remains active. A female Scottish medium, Helen, who first appeared to us through transfiguration but who also frequently speaks through EVP, has a distinctive Glaswegian accent (23,24). Whilst her messages are usually supportive, should she take a dislike to a visitor her language may be colourful, which is a character trait that was documented by those she worked with before her passing.

    Few EVP operators have the capability to meaningfully analyse vocal characteristics of their recordings, and external examination of wave forms is costly and not open to the lay researcher. It would be ideal to have a comparative recording of the captured voice of a speaker when alive, but as few communicators provide their full identity, or lived in a period when voices were recorded, it is rarely possible to match a speaker to a clip. Paolo Presi (2006) in the analysis of a short utterance, lists several anomalies including poor melodic and harmonic contents, expanded vowels, abnormal fluctuations of the voice and possible dysphonia. In contrast to Presi, our recordings (when captured without use of a background noise) are more akin to our voices, both in wave form and in amplitude; the similarity between Tracey’s voice and a communicator’s voice is striking and highlights the normality of speech we obtain in séance sittings (Fig. 4).

    Fig. 4, Sitter and communicator’s vocal pattern, as displayed on Audition, Adobe Creative Cloud, 2021.

    The voices of those who communicate, portray every emotion that we are capable of; when a direct response is received, the tone of the speaker’s voice can be affecting to listen to. During a sitting Helen was asked to come forward, but it was a gentleman who responded not to the sitter but to advise Helen, “Careful Helen, they’re out of the way” (25). This comment not only illustrates the speaker’s cognisance of who was present on our side but of cautious behaviour. The timbre of the human voice imparts a mental picture of who we are listening to and our reactions to what they say, and how it is said, are instinctual.

    Without any visual cues humans have an innate ability, albeit to differing degrees, of how we gauge the personality of a speaker. Phil McAleer (2014) at the University of Glasgow asked 320 people to rate the word “hello” on a scale of 1 to 9 for specific personality traits including trustworthiness, dominance, and attractiveness. From a strikingly short utterance, listeners reported a high consistency of perceived personality, only attractiveness fell outside of a broad consensus, which being a subjective experience might be expected. If we apply the study findings to the interpretation of those whom we record, especially when the same voice is captured repeatedly, our perceptions of communicators may be considered accurate. During a field recording, I captured the voice a gentleman saying “Sarah, bless you” (26), the EVP clearly imparts not only his nationality, but the enunciation reflects a high level of education. Without additional information, it would be difficult to place the speaker but knowing this clip was captured at a prominent High Church of England building, its context holds more meaning, and creates a mental picture of how the speaker might appear.

    In the first year of recording, whilst appreciative of receiving clear voices and contextual messages, we were perplexed as to why most EVP were spoken by female communicators. Our concern was that external listeners, knowing that our group consisted only of women, would assume that the clips were of our voices. To address this, we asked that more men come forward, with voices that would be easily distinguished from our own. Almost immediately, the balance of male to female voices changed and it is now men, who speak more frequently on recordings.

    It was Charlie (27,28) who became our first regular male communicator, he was easily recognised by his accent and upbeat demeanour. The cottage where recordings were held, was sited close to an active military base and for three days every year, fast jets skimmed the roof top during displays for the air show. On the last evening when the jets were grounded, we gathered for a sitting; it was no surprise to hear Charlie’s voice, and his comment “’Ello flight’s just gone out” (29) could not have been more pertinent, as a C130 Hercules had recently departed.

    Obtaining forenames upon request has been relatively easy although most speakers are adamant in refusing to provide their surname. Those who are reportedly seen and described by sitters as they transfigure in seances, are more likely to let us know of their identity (30), however, there remain only a few communicators that we have detailed knowledge of. Charlie is an exception, but it took years of piecing together brief EVP to learn that he was a WWII aircraft mechanic, who came from Arsenal, a residential area of North London. We are still unable to formerly identify him as his family name and service number have yet to be provided. The discovery of why there is such a resistance to withhold information that would definitively identity a speaker, is an ongoing quest.

    Aside from the anomalous character of EVP, associated linguistic anomalies exist that are beyond explanation by even the most experienced and open-minded operator. Examples of EVP that fall into this category are the voices of group members whose words are transformed through modulation, the content of EVP being modified after archiving, messages in foreign languages that cannot be identified, receiving only English EVP when recording overseas and messages that are complete nonsense. The instinctual reaction is to dismiss all recordings that fall within these categories as human error or misinterpretations, and in the first few years we did, however, they continue to be captured and regardless of our lack of understanding in why they are transmitted, I believe they are worthy of consideration.

    The most entertaining of the anomalies is the modulation by communicators of group member’s speech into passages that are not only uncharacteristic of their vocal tone but are also grammatically uncomfortable. An apt example was the hijacking of my voice, to convey what the speaker had seen during a series of multiple transfigurations, in a seance. The EVP is loud, and the speaker sounded excited, “His face was like King Kong weren’t it, they were taking turns”, before my voice abruptly returned to my normal timbre, when I asked Tracey about the position of the cabinet curtains (31). This type of anomaly has been distinct to séance recordings, and because this phenomenon is so specific, I would theorise that it requires the group’s collective energy, to facilitate the manipulation of language in this way.

    Uncontextual nonsense EVP, but messages retaining clear enunciation, began to be recorded after the study began in 2008 and continues to the present day. Principally they feature in longer focused recordings, such as seances. One example in my voice, “You’re going away to Harvard hoo ha ha ha” (32), and another in Tracey’s voice “It’s the Holy Grail with your shoes off” (33), demonstrate the intellectual absurdity of the phenomenon. Unlike our modulated voices being morphed by speakers to air their observations, these clips bear no relevance to our conversation and have no easily discernible purpose, other than possibly as a demonstration of the speaker’s ability to alter waves forms, or an experiment in transmission from their side.

    EVP in foreign languages is scarcely recorded, and rarer still are strings of words in multiple languages. When performing solo recording experiments, I may begin by asking communicators to come forward by greetings in English, Arabic, French, or German, but to date direct responses have been in English; only in séance room conditions when multiple people are present, are non-English EVP captured. The first message we received in an unknown foreign language was “Erav sanka Kompf” (34), as a phrase this was incomprehensible, but individually the words do have meaning and are possibly from three individual languages; Erav, is a Sanskrit name that translates as having infinite strength, sanka is Old Norse, meaning to gather and Kompf is a Germanic surname. Compiling a cumulative meaning from the proposed translation would be tenuous, and I recognise that my interpretation may not be correct, resulting in the provisional meaning being defunct. Interpreting foreign EVP is demanding, especially when the sentence structure is unfamiliar. An EVP of a simple Arabic phrase was understandable, but the words were in reversed order of their common usage; the phrase “ma-salaam” (goodbye), had been changed to “Salaam ma” (35), which could literally be interpreted as peace water. Curiously, routinely placed under my chair for séances, is a decorated Arabic pottery bowl full of water; so maybe the latter translation is correct.

    When recording overseas in a country, whose native tongue is distinctly different from your own, you might logically expect to record samples of native speakers, but in our experience that has not proven to be the case. Reaction to our presented recordings of overseas EVP has been almost universally hostile because we have recorded no foreign speakers, all voices were in English. The recorded voices in Norway were disconcertingly familiar; at the Folkemuseum in Oslo, in the quiet month of February, standing on the porch of an old church, we captured the name of “Raleigh” (36). Raleigh’s name has been captured 26 times during field trips to Tudor and Elizabethan buildings; we have no proof that it relates to Sir Walter Raleigh, but assume it to be him, due to his link with the locations. I was unable to find any documentation to support that he had visited Norway, only reference to a comment he made regarding his discovery of the Trinidadian Pitch Lake, “It melteth not with the sunne as the pitch of Norway”. If the speaker isn’t Raleigh, the reason for providing his name is open to conjecture.

    The number of words received in an EVP message, based on our library of 15,000 clips, ranges commonly between one and five, this would fit with the findings of Dr Carlo Trina (Firenze, Italy), whose review of 24,000 clips gathered from four operators showed a maximum of around five syllables per capture. MacRae (1984), puts forward three to four words of between 1.5 - 1.75 seconds, yet the duration of our highly articulated clips range from 1-5 seconds, longer strings of less intelligible speech by multiple speakers are often captured, and Ernst Senkowski reported an outstanding sentence consisting of 36 syllables. From this we may see that a blanket statement of the duration of EVP is not possible; I consider the likely factors to influence the capture rate are environmental conditions and how the recording is affected by the operator.

    When focusing on EVP as communication, it is helpful to be aware of the mechanics of human speech; how we anatomically influence the sounds that we produce and our individual ability to differentiate between acoustic patterns. The building blocks of speech are individual sounds, or phonemes. When combined these form words or morphemes, and in turn sentences are formulated; these are further coloured by the tempo, stress, and intonation of the speaker. The process of producing intelligible language is uniquely human and dependant on our physical bodies, and whilst operators have put forward theories for how ITC speech is captured, the capability to assess their claims scientifically is not possible (Buckner & Buckner, 2012). Accepting that those who communicate through EVP use a non-mechanistic method to project speech, it should be no surprise that unusual inflections of vocal modulation will arise, however, our library of supporting EVP for this essay, demonstrates that clear, understandable speech is frequently captured in recordings.

    Please note: the information on this page is an excerpt from my accepted BICS essay. You may download the full text here: CLICK