Right now the internet is in a heated debate. Sides have been taken and lines have been drawn, because of this viral audio clip that sounds like someone is saying Laurel or Yanny. Cloe Feldman shared the clip and almost two days later it has amassed over eight million views.
The audio is like the blue and white dress debate all over again. If you’ve been on the internet at all you know that people are outraged that some people hear Laurel, some can hear Yanny and some can hear both.
My personal timeline shows an overwhelming amount of Yanny people and a handful of Laurel’s. So why do some people hear Laurel, Yanny or eventually both?
Rachel Gutman, a linguist and a writer for The Atlantic, explained how the soundwaves hit some people’s ears differently. She provided a spectrogram of the recording and explained the soundwaves that appear.
Gutman talked to Chelsea Sanker, a phonetician at Brown University, about the spectrogram. “Sanker said the l/y discrepancy might come from the fact that the sound there isn’t velarized—the speaker’s tongue isn’t touching the back of their soft palate (the velum), as many American English speakers do when they say an l,” Gutman explained.
Sanker also said that the middle consonant in the recording is “definitely not an n,” but some might hear and ‘n’ because of how nasally the vowel before it is said. Your brain is predicting the sound of the recording.
If you change the pitch of the recording, you can hear both Laurel and Yanny. When the pitch is higher people heard Laurel more and when it was lowered people heard Yanny. Gutman wasn’t the only person to point out the pitch change. Many people tweeted about it and provided audio evidence.
According to BuzzFeed News, the recording is low-quality, so your brain fills in the rest of the sounds. Sanker was saying something similar on how we interpreted the vowel and constants.
“So…it’s actually a very poor-quality recording and the brain gets influenced by what you read first, before you actually hear it,” Raul Veiga, CEO of production company Radial Produções told BuzzFeed. “What gets people confused is that it’s not Yanny or Laurel, it’s more of a ‘Yarel’ thing.”
BuzzFeed also noted that speakers play a massive part in what you hear because the sound quality effects frequencies, which is precisely what Gutman proved with the spectrogram.
“The reason these differential illusions like the dress and this recording are interesting is because they show how the brain does this, namely by combining incoming information with assumptions,” Pascal Wallisch, a professor of psychology at New York University, told BuzzFeed.
So what speaker you listened with, how your brain processed the sounds, how the sound frequencies and your surroundings all had an effect on whether or not you hear Laurel or Yanny.