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Yanny or Laurel? Why people hear different words

Yanny or Laurel? Why people hear different words
Yanny or Laurel? The question has taken the internet by storm. (Fidel Martinez / Instagram)

Which do you hear: Yanny or Laurel? Not since the infamous dress of 2015 has the internet been this consumed and divided by a meme.

The debate started Saturday on Reddit when a user going by “RolandCamry” posted an audio clip from Vocabulary.com to the popular social media site. By Monday night, the clip had spread to Twitter thanks in large part to vlogger Cloe Feldman, who tweeted it out to her more than 209,000 followers.

The tweet caught fire, and just about everyone has chimed in. Chrissy Teigen hears “Laurel.”

For Mindy Kaling, it’s “Yanny.”

But why are some people hearing “Yanny” while others hear “Laurel?” The answer can also be found on Twitter, thanks to the many experts who have weighed in.

Suzy Styles, an assistant professor at Singapore’s Nayang Tenchological University who focuses on the brain, language and intersensory perception, has put her expertise to good use and created a thread with a step-by-step breakdown of the science at play in this aural illusion. First, she took the recording and put it on a spectogram.

With the sound visualized, Styles then gives a quick overview of formants and the role they play in speech sound.

The first two formants, F1 and F2, are instrumental in being able to tell the different vowels apart. As Styles shows, this sound recording contains multiple dark bands and in varying degrees of concentrations.

Particularly problematic are the two different F1 bands. The one on the left has a higher frequency than its counterpart.

When the left F1 band is paired with the equally high F2, the result is a “y” sound.

Several Twitter users took Styles’ explanation a step further and put it to the test, altering the frequency of the original audio clip to isolate both “Yanny” and “Laurel.”

Still don’t hear “Yanny?” That’s okay! In his own separate Twitter thread, Rory Turnbull, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, notes that other external factors could be why you still hear “Laurel.”

Age could also be a factor. The older you get, the less likely you are to be able to detect higher frequencies.

fidel.martinez@latimes.com

Twitter: @fidmart85

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