It’s the question that’s driving the Internet crazy: Is the computerized voice on a viral audio clip saying “Laurel” or “Yanny”?
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
First posted on Reddit by a high school student, the clip exploded onto Twitter yesterday. Ever since, the tweets on either side have grown louder and more divided: Some insist the clip says Laurel. Others couldn’t be more convinced that it’s Yanny. It’s all reminiscent of the argument over that dress that some saw as blue and others as gold.
And so, as the Internet debates this audio chameleon—dividing friends, families and co-workers worldwide—journalists have been seeking answers from experts, many of them audiologists or speech-language pathologists. Their answers are certainly enlightening. Most note the varying devices, speakers and headphones delivering the recording differentially affect how people hear it. But (sorry, Internet!) they don’t point to a definite right or wrong camp.
- Bharath Chandrasekaran, professor, communications sciences and disorders, University of Texas at Austin, in The Verge. Chandrasekaran, incoming editor-in-chief-speech of ASHA’s Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Science, suggests the file’s noise causes the confusion on names. “It’s a little bit noisy, so that itself causes perception to be a little more ambiguous. Because it’s noisy, your brain is filling in with what it thinks it should be.”
- Brad Story, professor, speech, language and hearing sciences, University of Arizona, on CNN. Story suggests the recording quality affects how people hear it: “If you have a low quality of recording, it’s not surprising some people would confuse the second and third resonances flipped around, and hear Yanny instead of Laurel.”
- Jody Kreiman, principal investigator, Voice Perception Laboratory, University of California, Los Angeles, in The New York Times. Kreiman suggests the recording’s acoustic patterns are midway between those for Laurel and Yanny. “The energy concentrations for Ya are similar to those for La. N is similar to r; I is close to l.”
- Alison M. Grimes, director of audiology and newborn hearing, UCLA Health, in SELF. Grimes suggests people tend to hear what they’re expecting to hear: “If we’re talking to someone and we expect them to say a particular word in a sentence because it’s logical, we’ll hear it with our brain even if the speaker says it unclearly or it’s noisy. We automatically fill in the missing sound to make sense.”
- Zhenetta Shapiro, director of audiology, Brooklyn College, to Leader Live. Shapiro suggests that what people hear may depend on bass or treble filtering of the clip: “With higher pitch it may be more of Yanny and with lower, more of Laurel.” (In her SELF interview, Grimes even threw out that hearing Laurel may indicate some high-frequency hearing loss.)
Correct or not, what do most people hear when listening to the clip? Informal polling of Leader staff puts Yanny far ahead of Laurel at 5:2. Yanny also leads with 60 percent (versus 40 percent for Laurel) in an informal @ashaweb vote among ASHA members on Instagram. So while there may be no “correct” answer to this conundrum, Yanny appears to win the preference vote.