Deranged DPRK bomb test boast audio search

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I'd be interested to know if any clever net-wranglers who read Language Log could provide a link (I haven't found one) to non-overdubbed audio of the official broadcast announcement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's recent nuclear test. The BBC played a little bit of it, and it was truly astonishing. High pitched, over-the-top emotional, and bombastic in a kind of frantic way that sounded utterly ludicrous. Not just like a squeaky and histrionic Korean voice bragging in a deranged kind of way, but like a Saturday Night Live sketch depicting a squeaky and histrionic Korean voice bragging in a deranged kind of way. It was creepy, but I'd sort of love to hear it again. No I wouldn't… Perhaps I would. I don't know. Give the link in the comments area if you can find one, and I'll think about whether it's too creepy to listen to.


  1. Max said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 6:24 am

    This might be what you are looking for:

    [Yes! That's it, I think. It is not as high-pitched and mad as I thought from the little bit I caught on the radio, but it seems controlledly semi-hysterical, and it certainly is creepy. There is a sort of deliberately affected smugness and nationalistic self-congratulation. Which is this guy's job, of course: he is there to look clean-cut and smug, and to shout carefully drafted propaganda into a TV camera, from a script written by the government that employs him. They doubtless direct every aspect of his delivery. One moment of editorializing or a flicker of uncertainty in the eyes and he'd be out of there. It doesn't have to look reasonable or normal; it has to satisfy his political masters. Watch and shudder. —GKP]

  2. mondain said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 6:28 am

    You may want to check this site:

  3. Ray Girvan said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 7:46 am

    For a fair test, it's worth checking what this KCNA announcer sounds like on other topics: such as here. I don't know Korean, but he definitely seems to have switched to a higher, more declamatory, register for the nuclear test announcement.

  4. Lochlan Morrissey said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 8:52 am

    You're right, GKP, it is a very creepy broadcast. I agree with what you said about it looking like a Saturday Night Live parody of a Korean declamatory newscast; the quasi-comical painted backdrop, the ever-present wry smile, the seemingly casual nature in which he ends the broadcast. I wonder whether the authorities knew that the juxtaposition between these elements, and the serious nature of the news he's uttering, would be unsettling to foreign audiences, or whether it was just a coincidence…

  5. Mark Liberman said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    Just to confirm Geoff's phonetic impressions quantitively, here' s a scatter plot of amplitude against F0 (where each point is one 10 millisecond analysis frame) for the youtube broadcasts linked by Max and Ray:

    The red points are the bomb test announcement; the blue points are the other one.

  6. Robert Cumming said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 11:02 am

    Is this a North Korean regime propaganda style thing, or could it be just the way people talk about very dramatic things in North Korea? How do viewers/listeners interpret the delivery in NK itself?

    [(myl) To some extent, it's just the way that everyone everywhere talks about very dramatic things — louder, wider pitch range, more vocal effort. The issue here, I guess, is what the norms might be for news readers in different countries with respect to different sorts of events. ]

  7. Boris Blagojević said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

    It's a funny coincidence, but this clip reminded me of the last one I saw on the YouTube:

    This guy sure does look like he could start roaring any second. Too bad we can't see his legs.

  8. Fred said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

    In any society, you have to have some smarts to get to the top. This guy probably knows that the nukes aren't going to do him any good at all. He's probably had special permission to study overseas news. He'd rather have a fancier studio, or at least more food, and he could do without all the extra attention from that big nuclear power up in North America he's been insulting for all these years. Maybe he's just scared.

  9. Y said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

    Can you provide a reference for the technical details of how you extracted the data for your diagram?

    [(myl) I used the pitch tracker ("get_f0") in the esps software package

    I pulled out the F0 and amplitude data as an ascii file, one frame per line, using fea_print (also in the esps package); read it into R; and plotted it. (There were some regions where background hum was considered voiced, and I did a couple of things to get rid of them — an easier alternative, if you don't already have the esps stuff installed, would probably be to use praat to make and edit the pitch tracks.)

    Here's the R script:

    png(filename="KCNA1.png", width=750, height=750)
    xr <- c(60,280); yr <- c(30,68) plot(X1[,1], 20*log10(X1[,2]), pch="o", col="red", ylab="Amplitude (dB)", xlab="F0 (Hz)", main="Two KCNA broadcasts", xlim=xr, ylim=yr ) points(X2[,1],20*log10(X2[,2]),pch="x", col="blue") This took about ten minutes altogether. ]

  10. Matt Ferris said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

    Anybody ever listen to *South* Korean news broadcasts? Watch a South Korean TV drama? The reason I ask is that to an outsider, either of these two linguistic/cultural events have been known to sound "over-the-top emotional, and bombastic in a kind of frantic way that sounded utterly ludicrous." The North Korean anchor is breathing hard. Other than that, this could be a South Korean broadcaster talking about a student protest or a late-breaking development in beef tariffs.

  11. James C. said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

    I’m pretty sure he just used a program like Praat and told it to find the fundamental frequency of the voice (F0 in Hz) and the RMS amplitude (dB) every 10 ms. It’s not exactly accurate because it’s detecting an F0 for consonants where there may not be one, but it gets enough vowels to make a decent plot.

  12. Jesse Tseng said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

    But who knows what might have happened to the sound in those two clips before they made their way onto YouTube. Since it's the same guy talking, wouldn't it be a good idea to check that his voice was recorded in the same way, and if necessary, normalize the clips before comparing his F0s? (I don't know if/how one would do that — not based on mean F0, obviously!)

    [(myl) The recording process is presumably the same, given that it's the same program and the same news reader. Subsequent processing might be different — it sounds like one of the clips has gotten distorted a bit along the way — and might well affect the amplitude. But there's no likely form of processing that would have affected the fundamental frequency estimates much. ]

  13. Mark F. said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 8:10 pm

    After the buildup I was a little let down when I saw the clip. He did sound like he was a government employee making an announcement, rather than an independent presenter of the news, but, well, there you are.

  14. Gavin said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

    In response to Matt Ferris:

    In my experience, Pyongyang news is often compared to official government news in Beijing. Nothing scientific, but the impression among the Chinese and S. Koreans I know is that the official news is very "stiff" and emphatic, compared to what one would expect from proper news networks in say, Seoul and Taipei. Whether it's just the perceived sound of the specific dialect used in the news or not seems like it could be a chicken & egg sort of question.

  15. Chris said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

    I currently reside in SK, and speak Korean fairly fluently. Compared to SK news broadcasts, this NK announcer, while speaking with a bit more passion and maybe a bit more like a SK pastor might give his sermons, doesn't really sound much different from his SK counterparts when they report things like the recent suicide of No Moo Hyun or about anti-US beef import prostests. In particular, this announcer's cadence is typical of how koreans speak when they want to sound very official or authoritative.

  16. Evan said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 1:51 am

    Apparently their scientists and technicians are having trouble developing teleprompter technology.

  17. comwave said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    To foreigners' ears, the NK announcer may not sound much different. To native ears, it's totally different. If you say anything in the tone and accent, you're joking or doing some comedy. You can hear that sort of tone, intonation, and accent from some SK comedians when they are on stage. Among ordinary people, we imitate the speech tone only when trying to make the audience laugh. The difference is that huge as between British and American English, especially in terms of not pronunciation but accent, intonation, and tone.

    NK people have their own dialect, which is much different from SK's standard language, the ordinary spoken language among Seoulnites. But in daily conversation NK people don't speak as the NK announcer does. He is not using the dialect, but some sort of NK public announcement accent and intonation. It would sound a little bit like he is making a public speech in front of a huge audience as in political elections. But even in a public speech, no one speaks like him. And no one uses that sort of tone, accent, and intonation in daliy talk. If anyone does in a normal situation, then the listners would be puzzled.

    In terms of vocabulary, NK and SK languages are on the same basis, but with many exceptions, a natural development of decades' separation.

  18. Y said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    Thanks, Mark and James. The ldc link isn't working right now. Praat is not really set up to extract f0s automatically from a corpus, though I am sure it can be made to do so.
    I wonder if the tails on the left sides of both distributions correspond to the frequent pitch rises (at the beginning of words?) In the bomb test distribution it goes from 100 to 120 Hz.

  19. Nick Lamb said,

    May 31, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

    Is it just me that read this blog post and thought of the Hafler Trio's "All Largely Propaganda"? To spare you the effort of tracking a copy down, it's derived from a recording of a BBC news broadcast asserting off-handedly that state-owned broadcasters (in this case I think in Moscow and Tehran) are simply mouthpieces for government propaganda. There's no sign the newsreader is aware of any irony.

  20. Richard Dougherty said,

    June 9, 2009 @ 11:10 am

    I don't speak Korean, but living in neighboring Japan for several decades has made me familiar with the unmistakable weirdness of a North Korean propaganda announcement. It appears to be an engineered mode of speaking tailored to match the military marching and other mass displays designed to delude this country that it is a power to be reckoned with rather than an impoverished wreck that happens to be of occasional use as a playing card to China.

    I do have a fair knowledge of Japanese, and one can find the same sort of "elevated" rhetoric in the public speaking of both right and left-wing factions. If patriotic music from the 30s and the Flight of the Valkeries is combined with an hysterical screeching voice, you will know you are listening to a speaker from the right to a bunch of high-school drop outs who learned their history from comic books.

    If the speakers are wrapped up like mummies and wearing dark glasses, then that would be the leftovers from the Red Army such as Kaku Maru, and such. This is all ritualized posturing, though only the more intelligent members of the group are aware of it.

    Few pay attention to these anachronistic local loudmouths, but everyone pays attention to the North Korean broadcasts. First of all, they have a very large militrary force, though few of them have any combat experience. Secondly, there are China and Russia nearby. That is enough to make the West think twice about the weirdly bellicose broadcast style of the North.

    While I agree that there is validity to this issue as a linguistic subject, it is in the end trivializing. No doubt the varied rhetorical styles of the major war lords of the mid-20th century–Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, etc. had their impacts, the issue was hardly one of linguistics.

    In any case, I have more or less always lived in or near an A-bomb target. How Koreans do or don't speak on TV has so far had little to do with it.


    R. Dougherty

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