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Did C-Pyne drop the c-bomb?

Earlier today a number of news agencies (perhaps all of them, ever) reported on a video, in which Education Minister Christopher Pyne appears to call Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke the c-bomb after Burke interrupted his speech. Here’s a video of the incident:

YouTube Preview Image

The minister’s office quickly came out and stated that Pyne had used the word ‘grub’, rather than ‘c—’. Shorten’s office, too, stated that the Opposition Leader doesn’t recall Pyne using the term. Liberal haters across the country weighed in, and continue to do so, condemning the man for so casually and capriciously letting slip the most heinous word, salivating at the golden egg shat to them by this giant goose. At the time of writing, the hashtag #c—gate (without the dash, of course) is close to trending on Twitter. The moral outrage is palpable. Australians sit around their screens, listening again and again to that tiny sentence: “You’re such a ???” They convince themselves: it must be c—. It must be. After all, the footage is compelling. It really does seem like he utters the most expletive of the expletives. But there’s still doubt. It’s unclear. The audio isn’t quite perfect. Did C-Pyne really drop the c-bomb in Parliament… and get away with it!?

No. I’m afraid not. It’s too extraordinary to be true.

Phoneticians (linguists who study the sound systems of languages) use diagrams called spectrograms, which graphically represent intensity (volume) at different frequencies. Here’s the spectrogram of the complete sentence, as uttered in the recording by Pyne:

A spectrogram of Pyne's full utterance.

And if we zoom into the final—and now infamous—word:

A spectrogram of the mystery word.

See how the bottom two lines converge at the end of the word (the highlighted section of the image)? This shows that the mouth closed at the end of the word, consistent with the final consonant being ‘b’, as in Pyne’s claimed ‘grub’. Different speech sounds have different signatures in spectrograms, and this greatly resembles the signature of a sound produced with both lips touching. For comparison’s sake, here’s a spectrogram of me saying c—.

Even with my poor-quality laptop microphone, it’s very clear that the final consonant (which occurs above the ‘(s)’ in Time (s)) is a very different shape to that of the ‘b’ above. While the ‘b’ was much more bottom-heavy, the ‘t’ is much more dispersed, and doesn’t show the same mouth closure as above. This categorically rules out his dropping of the c-bomb, and support’s Pyne’s defense of his language. As for the first consonant of the word, what appears to have happened is that a brilliantly-timed cough from someone on the floor lined up with the start of the word. The cough appears to block out the ‘r’ sound, effectively deleting it. If you listen to it again, with the knowledge that the final consonant is a ‘b’, it sounds almost like ‘cub’ (‘g’ and ‘k/c’ are both pronounced identically, with only voicing distinguishing them: say Kate and then gate, and you’ll see). You think you hear ‘k’, then ‘uh’, and then our minds, with what little stimulus they receive, fill in the rest. And, in such a combative arena as Parliamentary Question Time, we’re bound to hear insults rather than pet terms.

Not today, friends. Not today. Looks like the hashtag will have to be updated; but #grubgate hardly has as nice a ring to it, does it?

(Thanks to Rosey Billington and Lauren Gawne, both from the University of Melbourne, for help with the phonetics).

EDIT: For interested readers, other linguists have also written about this incident, not without differences of opinion. Follow these links:

Simon Musgrave, lecturer in linguistics at Monash Univeristy.
Helen Fraser, forensic transcription expert
.

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  • 1
    @chrispydog
    Posted May 15, 2014 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t prove he didn’t think.

  • 2
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Damn, I was actually beginning to like Pyne. Now he was just saying grub. Bugger.

    Reckon if he’d added “sniveling” he’d have been tossed as Gillard was?

  • 3
    Savvy Linguist
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Completely disagree with this analysis. After conducting my own analysis with multiple comparative data sets I would have to question this, although convincing analysis.

  • 4
    Lochlan Morrissey
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Hi Savvy Linguist, could you link us to a blog or somesuch with your analysis? We’d be interested to see it.

  • 5
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    @Lochlan: methinks ‘savvy linguist’ is just disgruntled about you disproving the #c—gate scandal and actually knows very little about acoustic analysis.

    You have broken quite a few hearts with your analysis.

  • 6
    pinkocommierat
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    At least it diverted attention away from that unsellable turkey of a Budget.

  • 7
    Helen Fraser
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Thanks Lochlan – nice to see a proper analysis of this audio. You might be interested in my similar findings, and in my linking this discussion to a far broader and more important issue:

    What if this audio were evidence in a murder trial? Can this storm in a teacup shed light on serious problems in the use of indistinct covert recordings in criminal trials?
    http://forensictranscription.com.au/christopher-pyne-the-c-word-or-the-g-word/

    Best wishes
    Helen
    ~~~~~
    Dr Helen Fraser
    Forensic Transcription Expert

  • 8
    tashapotamus
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    You can see his mouth at the end of the word, finish off with ‘b’.

  • 9
    Yclept
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Regardless of the actual word, it still highlights the appalling behaviour we have to suffer from these pollies. It also highlights the way that the Libs can get away with it, yet Gillard was turfed out. No double standards on our political stage.

  • 10
    Lyn Gain
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I cannot believe Crikey published this article. Here is an audiotape which got rid of background noise. It is crystal clear that Pine said ‘cunt’. Now we are being expected to doubt the evidence of our own senses, again. Abbott did not promise no new taxes, and Pyne did not say cunt. http://stilgherrian.com/conversations/christopher-pyne-c-word/

  • 11
    veronica@prhelp.com.au
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I take issue…Why the “most heinous word”…not true…what’s wrong with a word that means a njce, warm, juicy place built for pleasure and giver of life? Hardly heinous!

  • 12
    Jude
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Grub is a good epithet for Christopher Pyne.

  • 13
    zut alors
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I’d be astonished if Pyne was familiar with this word.

    However the link provided by Lyn Gain (#10) is convincing.

  • 14
    Jarvie Alex
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    For all the effort put in to not writing “cunt” on this page, you do realize the last image is called “cunt1.png”. I think this may be my new favorite image name.

  • 15
    Jayden Cordes
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    The spectrogram clearly shows voicing cutting out in the initial consonant (symbolised by the dark bar on the bottom edge) which is consistent with a /k/ sound not a /g/ sound.

    The /t/ at the end of the author’s spectrogram is very clearly and strongly aspirated -this is normal for someone carefully and consciously pronouncing the word into a laptop mic, but it’s not how we talk in natural Aus English. Final /t/ is generally unaspirated (not released) in spoken speech which is why the formants converge here.

    Conclusion: he definitely dropped the c-bomb.

  • 16
    Recalcitrant.Rick
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    It’s probably not true, but giving the constant lies that the Abbott mob repeated so often they became “Truth” let’s hope this goes viral! He is after all, an odious creep!

  • 17
    Chris Bauer
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    As a life long student of audio engineering I must say you are obviously under the influence of the LNP’s long media reach. My first suspicions were raised after the support of the fuel excise but this takes the cake and the prize for LNP disguised as “independent” media. I mean what other independent media source would charge for news?

    I know what a consonant sounds like and anyone that knows anything about audio (as you claim to have a “specialist”) would know a spectrograph is useless in that environment as there are reflections from multiple sound sources reflecting from both sides of the house and gallery and ceiling and floor and it can all cause standing waves in the overall audio feed which you claim to have captured. HOWEVER, the direct sound from the transducer used by pynes clearly picks up a “K” sound sound/consonant at the start of the alleged unpunished assault (which we all know bitchsop is a puppet) and also an “nt” at the end of it. A “G’ and “B” sound are clearly different. Please feel free to test my un-biased AVID, Digitech, SONY, Apple, or Fanny Wang software and hardware to check. I’ll even enlist some colleagues I studied with and even some PHD Scholars for a further more unbiased professional analysis.

    However, if I’m right, you are the worst kind of evil by masquerading as an independent news source actually belonging to the LNP. If this is the case, you cunts (sorry GRUBS) deserve every heartache you’ve earned.

  • 18
    Mark Duffett
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    People might want to recheck the link provided by Lyn Gain – Stilgherrian has recanted.

    But I reckon zut has also touched on the truth. For what it’s worth (probably not much) I was moderately acquainted with Christopher Pyne back in the late 80s/early 90s, and it just never rang true that he would employ the heinous c-word on the floor of Parliament, sotto voce or otherwise. ‘Grub’ is just so much more his style.

  • 19
    Sir Pajama Pudding of Lake Disappointment
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    It is ridiculous to assert what anyone says solely based on spectral analysis. A few greyscale screenshots does not constitute anything, particularly as the T sound is commonly dropped. The word in question is often pronounced as “cun”. In such circumstances, listeners brains will add the t. It’s similar to temporal masking in that regard.

    There’s no t in Prissy’s word, but here’s no b either.

    The clue to Miss Prissy’s aside is the complete lack of a r. And that’s the real indicator, not the absence of the trailing consonant.

    He certainly did NOT say “grub”.

    I spend a large chunk of my working life using Algorithmix reNOVAtor, one of the best spectral editors ever designed. The only useful thing the spectral editor shows in this case is the absence of the trailing consonant, but that is not unusual. In music, trailing consonants are often removed (in fact, some singers are very skilled at dropping them while singing, especially from harmony vocals), but the listener’s brain has no problem understanding which word was sung.

  • 20
    cairns50
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    so youve wasted a whole column trying to convince me and other crikey readers that Pyne didnt use the word C…T

    he did end of story are you ears painted on

  • 21
    Lyn Gain
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Mark Duffett. I rechecked the Stilgherrian audio tape. It hasn’t changed, only now he’s saying that this article made him reconsider the evidence of his senses. Yet a number of comments have taken issue with the validity of the spectograph. I couldn’t give a f— about whether Pyne said c— or not. What I am saying, however, is that this is a typical response of the Abbott government – to make us believe that black is white.

  • 22
    klewso
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Pyne’s taking a hissy because Shorten has taken to adapting his, Abbott’s and the rest of the Coal-ition’s tactics (with similar effect) to government?
    “Grub” (though it sounds more like “grunt” or similar?) is so much more edifying?

  • 23
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    For the very first time I felt a smidgeon of respect for Chrissy Wissy, then it turns out he said grub I lost it.

    One thing I will say, it takes a Cünt to know a Cünt and Chrissy Wissy should know.

  • 24
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    ZUT: He has got four kids. If he doesn’t know what the “C” word means by now, he’ll never find out.

  • 25
    mikeb
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Grub is so lame – that’s why I suspect it’s what he said.

  • 26
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    And if you have to analyse it this much to tell what he actually said, then there’s still a problem, isn’t there? I know what I heard.

  • 27
    Jeff Richards
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I played the You Tube clip over and over again in it doesnt sound anything like grub (unless someone has doctored the clip). Are you sure your spectrographic analysis is right- and why is it any better than my ears ? Of course politicians talk like this in private, as many people in all walks of life do. But for an education minister to say this in public is plain stupid. All your fancy equipment aside, people will play this on their phone and computers.. and they draw the same conclusion as I do. You will be over ridden by social media (as journalism often is these days).

  • 28
    The Pedanticist
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Ummm, for this to be taken as a robust analysis, you should at least have a spectrogram of you saying the word “grub” to enable a comparison between all the objects…

    I listened to this a goodly number of times TRYING to hear the word “Grub”… It didn’t work for me. Maybe that’s just me though…

  • 29
    Lee Boldeman
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    What complete rubbish! I listened to the recording this morning on my Ipad and it couldn’t have been clearer. Both my wife and I heard the “C” word.

  • 30
    Pete from Sydney
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    not even vaguely convinced

  • 31
    Warwick Hempel
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Surely no ordinary linguist would be able to determine if Pyne used the c word. You would need a specialist, you would probably need the services of a cunning linguist.

  • 32
    Lauren Gawne
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    As Helen Fraser pointed out in her measured analysis (http://forensictranscription.com.au/christopher-pyne-the-c-word-or-the-g-word/), these observations do not confirm with absolute certainty that ‘grub’ is the definite, accurate transcription – but they do confirm that it is a more likely outcome than any other.

    Spectrograms give acoustic evidence that is independent of anything that you hear or see – the human brain is an amazing instrument when it comes to processing speech, but hardly infallible (just google The McGurk Effect if you want proof, or some Friday afternoon entertainment).

    The cough obliterates enough of the initial sound, and Pyne is not really projecting in the way he was before this utterance – it’s more of a chuckling aside which makes it even more challenging. Ideally a spectrogram would measure a voice without environmental factors (such as ill-timed coughing).

    There is enough phonological conditioning and ideological conditioning happening with this single word that people will hear whatever they like – which is why Lochlan (and Helen and Simon in their analyses) resort to more objective measures.

  • 33
    AR
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    What a stunning exposition, thank you very much.

  • 34
    AR
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    WH – the rest of us (appear to have) resisted that poon so congrats for ensuring that it is on record, rather than just assumed.

  • 35
    Andybob
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    To be fair, Gillard didn’t get kicked out for calling someone a sniveling grub. She got sin binned for apologizing to grubs when asked to unconditionally withdraw.

  • 36
    tonysee
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I listened to the audio before reading anything and there’s no way I can hear ‘grub’. My immediate impression was either the ‘c’ word or ‘punk’. I may have been predisposed to the former because of the headline but, again, there’s no way it’s ‘grub’.

    As much as I dislike Pyne, though, I can’t imagine him dropping the c-bomb in parliament. My vote is for ‘punk’.

    Oh and Pyne is a tnuc.

  • 37
    beachcomber
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    The video link with this story has been deleted. How strange.
    Here is another:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GfA0RKKnX4
    It may be possible to mimic his voice and insert “unt” into what he says, but this viewing angle shows his mouth movements and body language.
    He is not saying “grub”
    tonysee is half right, Pyne is a tnuc, but he is also a lying tnuc.

  • 38
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I find The Raging Poodle offensive almost every time he opens his mouth, so I’m not really fussed what he said or didn’t say yesterday.
    And since the negative poll trends for this alleged government are only likely to get worse, I suspect that Tony Abbott will be spending the rest of his tenure, just like King Cnut vainly trying to hold back the waves of voter resentment.

  • 39
    Malcolm Street
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    And another vote for whatever he said (and it sounds like c*** to me) it’s nothing like “grub”.

    What a cunning stunt! :-)

  • 40
    zut alors
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Who would’ve thought Pyne would ever utter something memorable.

  • 41
    Glen
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Ok, here’s Pyne amplified and slowed without pitch change (use Ctrl-click to stay on this page):

    http://members.optusnet.com.au/anon10/Pyne_slow.mp3

    Sure sounds like “c”. Here’s just the word, slowed even more:

    http://members.optusnet.com.au/anon10/Pyne_C.mp3

    Similar, but not so clear-cut. One quick and dirty way to avoid the auto-suggestion effect is to listen backwards. Here it is; listen carefully for component sounds, noting that some sound very different reversed:

    http://members.optusnet.com.au/anon10/Pyne_C_backwards.mp3

    I hear some “n”, which is much the same forwards v backwards. I don’t hear any “r”, which is also similar reversed. Ergo, it’s not “grub”. YMMV.

  • 42
    dnwilson@chenopod.net
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    My wife wife an I and listened to several timea and we are quite convinced he said the c word.

  • 43
    Thomas Green
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Nah, this is pretty scant and inconclusive. a) If the audio quality is poor, the spectral image will be correspondingly poor; in this case, there is indeed a lot of visual noise in the image, masking the signal, and this author is jumping to conclusions. A “t” sound will produce a fast transient with important spectral content in the high range (2-3kHz) and also some low-mid content (200-1000Hz). I think I can make out an impression such as that in the image, well, as easily as not. That is to say, there’s too much noise in the image to be certain one way or another – it doesn’t resolve an aural analysis. b) The author compares the original recording to a new recording, which probably has a lower noise floor, producing a clearer image, so I don’t see that the comparison is useful. If it sounds like he did, he may well have.

  • 44
    George Butler
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Bullshit! He fucking well said cunt!!!

  • 45
    klewso
    Posted May 17, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    This is more like Limited News/IPA stuff isn’t it?

  • 46
    paddy
    Posted May 17, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Unless someone fiddled with the audio and inserted a couple of different consonants, he said exactly what everyone heard him say.
    I’m afraid this article simply fails to convince anyone with a pair of ears.

  • 47
    Andrej Panjkov
    Posted May 17, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    The most telling evidence that it was not the c-word is the reaction of everyone else in the video. Hardly anyone blinks. A couple of Opposition people make a lazy gesture to bring the epithet to the Speaker’s attention, that’s all.

    If Pyne had indeed used the C-word, there would have been much more outrage evident in the video. We would have seen someone flinch on the coalition side. Even Bronwyn Bishop would have had to penalise Pyne more severely than demanding a retraction. An experiment would be to casually drop the C-word in a group of people and observe the reaction. If you dare.

    As undignified, peurile and petty as Pyne’s performance was, I can’t agree that he used the C-word. I’m not sure what word he used – it doesn’t sound like ‘grub’ either.

  • 48
    cvsanders
    Posted May 17, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Just because he dropped the last syllable doesn’t mean he didn’t say the word in question. He was using a conversational style when he made the comment, not his ‘speech’ style, in which he is much more likely to slightly slur words, run on, and drop syllables. We would need to see analysis of more than this isolated incident of Pyne speaking in a colloquial and jovial tone to be able to determine his speech patterns and therefore what he actually said.

    Without any prejudice, as someone who uses the word in question in my conversations all the time (normalising taboo words takes away their power, so says I), I heard him say c**t. That was without anyone telling me what to expect. As a linguist, I rewatched and rewatched to make sure he’d said what I thought he had. He had.

    I think analysis of other moments when Pyne has been recorded in a conversational mode will show that his articulation is not nearly as clear, and I’d be very keen to see a bit more in-depth study rather than believe an isolated spectographic analysis of a single incident tell me that my eyes and ears didn’t see and hear what they’re telling me they did.

  • 49
    cvsanders
    Posted May 17, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    It’s a shame he’s not a Country member…

  • 50
    Glen
    Posted May 18, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Since Crikey won’t parse my comment, here it is without links. You’ll need to copy/paste them…

     

    Here’s Pyne amplified and slowed, without pitch change:

        members.optusnet.com.au/anon10/Pyne_slow.mp3

    Sure sounds like “c”. Here’s just the word, slowed even more:

        members.optusnet.com.au/anon10/Pyne_C.mp3

    Similar, but not so clear-cut. One quick and dirty way to avoid the auto-suggestion effect is to listen backwards. Here it is; listen carefully for component sounds, noting that some sound very different reversed:

        members.optusnet.com.au/anon10/Pyne_C_backwards.mp3

    I hear some “n”, which is much the same forwards v backwards. I don’t hear any “r”, which is also similar reversed. Ergo, it’s not “grub”. YMMV.

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