A single audio clip has divided a nation into two teams; Team Yanny and Team Laurel. But a local professor says it's actually both and explains why.
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
On Monday, an audio clip of a computer-generated voice went viral on Twitter. The voice says a single word, but depending on who hears it, the clip either says "Yanny" or "Laurel."
The reason both words are heard, however, is because they are both in the recording, according to Dr. Nicole Rosen, associate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the Universtiy of Manitoba.
"The way we hear it is the way our brain is decoding the signal," Dr. Rosen explained. "There is an acoustic signal that includes both sounds at different frequencies."
Dr. Rosen says that our brain chooses certain parts of the signal to start and then fills in the rest. Because it is a computer-generated voice, it doesn't sound the way we would say it. So our brain tries to find the right part that it recognizes.
Dr. George Fulford, acting coordinator of Linguistics at the University of Winnipeg, says that how you hear the word is based on the frequency of the voice of the speaker.
Another important aspect of the debate is where you first hear it. Dr. Rosen says that hearing it through headphones compared to speakers can change how the word sounds.
"It's also based on the actual device that we're listening to it (on)," she says.
As for some human difference or gene that is causing this, Dr. Rosen says her linguist friends are trying to figure it out, but haven't found anything. There appears to be no difference between men and women, young and old, or anything else.
"There is probably something similar about certain brains that hear one versus the other but it's not something that is easily figureoutable," she said.
Dr. Fulford says if listener's ears are more attuned to higher pitched sounds, they will hear "Yanny". If they are more attuned to low-frequency sounds, you will hear "Laurel."
Don't try just saying the word 'Laurel' to someone and expect the same effect, though. The strange effect that it has is solely based on the computer-generated voice.
"It's an optical illusion."
Dr. Rosen says this phenomenon has been great for her and those in her field. The big thing, she said, is that the clip has allowed group collaboration to happen as everyone tries to figure this out.
"It's a cool effect," Dr. Fulford added.
For what it matters, Dr. Rosen and Dr. Fulford heard "Laurel" the first time the listened.