How could you possibly confuse “Laurel” with “Yanny”?

Have you weighed in on the viral Yanny or Laurel debate causing major contention among internet users today? If you haven’t heard of this auditory illusion which rivals the great White or Blue dress debate of 2015, listen and decide for yourself here >

People are Googling for answers to understand how anyone could possibly hear “Yanny” when they hear “Laurel”, and vice versa.

Naturally, lots of people are theorising about what is causing this “aural dissonance”. Some are saying Yanny sounds like Laurel when you listen to it on a phone instead of a desktop or laptop. Some believe your dialect and whether your listened to the recording over high-quality headphones and speakers can influence your interpretation of Yanny/Laurel.

Others believe it has something to do with pitch and bass.

Twitterer Steve Pomeroy has been busy playing around with the sound file.

He posted this earlier today:
Ok, so if you pitch-shift it you can hear different things:
down 30%:
down 20%:
up 20%:
up 30%
up 40%  

One linguist agrees that Steve’s pitch theory makes perfect sense, saying, “When it’s not being shifted around via computer program, the pitch of your voice depends on how thick and how tense your vocal folds are. It’s entirely independent of the formants [a concentration of acoustic energy around a particular frequency in the speech wave], which are based on how long your vocal tract is and where you’re constricting it. So that means that when the pitch of the recording is shifted, the formants remain unaffected.

When the speaker’s voice is artificially lowered, the formants sound as if they’ve been raised; if the speaker’s voice is raised, the formants sound lower. The sounds in yanny generally have higher formants and fewer dips than the sounds in laurel.”

It’s all a bit technical, isn’t it!

This whole debate debacle has me thinking about how different types of hearing loss impact your ability to understand certain words.

For example, if you struggle to hear low pitched sounds (men’s voice are harder to hear than a woman’s in background noise, and traffic noise and machinery sound muffled) then words like “mat” and “bat’ or “duff” and “tough” may sound alike.

If you struggle more with high pitched sounds and feel that everyone around you mumbles (female voices are harder to hear than male voices, and background noise over a certain level is disruptive to hearing conversation) then words like“fin” and “tin” may sound alike, as may “hit” and “heat”.

I digress.

So you heard Yanny (or something else entirely) when your partner swears black and blue that they heard Laurel from the same computer, same speakers? Take our free online hearing test (which uses words instead of ‘beeps’, by the way) to make sure the issue isn’t with your hearing!

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