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Yanny or Laurel? This computer-generated audio recording has been a new divisive subject on the internet and social media since the gold blue dress as people hear laurel or hear yanny. Read on to discover the the background and analysis behind this current social media craze.
Have you ever listened to the radio and heard a song’s lyrics differently than they’re written? Or, maybe you asked a friend or family member what they thought, only to find out they heard something opposite to you. In the case of the great “Yanny vs. Laurel” debate of 2018, internet users across the world picked sides over the sound of an audio clip posted by a high school student, with celebrities from Ellen DeGeneres to Christy Teigen and Mindy Kaling weighing in on the action.
Before May of 2018, the two words may not have meant much to the average internet user. The phenomenon first struck after 15-year-old Georgia freshman at Flowery Branch High School, Katie Hetzel, heard Vocabulary.com audio for the word “Laurel” (which is a wreath worn on the head). She was completing a homework assignment for her world literature course when she first looked up the word “laurel” and, to her surprise, heard it pronounced like the word “yanny.”
Wanting feedback, she shared the original clip on her Instagram Story and friends and classmates weighed in with their opinion. Further exasperating the confusion, some heard “Yanny,” while others heard “Laurel,” etc. A high school friend of Hetzel’s shared the same clip and added a poll to decide which sound listeners heard. While no one speculated that the two words would incite an internet-wide laurel yanny debate, the phenomenon struck a chord with users of the web as opinions varied.
A Reddit user soon shared it and then tweeted about by well-known YouTuber, Cloe Feldman. To Hetzel’s amazement, a massive viral trend debating the audio clip emerged, and news outlets across the country began writing, tweeting, and talking about the baffling controversy.
Indeed, organizations from CNN to Fox and even The White House staff began to take notice of the great Yanny vs. Laurel debate. vocabulary.com released an interesting backstory of the original recording of the word Laurel.
The yanny laurel original audio can be heard on Vocabulary.com for “laurel”. You can also play the yanny laurel video below:
According to Wired magazine, upon creation of the site, co-founder of Vocabulary.com, Marc Tinkler, hired “real people” to record the site’s words in DIY sound booths. Helped by expensive microphones, those real people in question were opera singers, chosen due to their clear articulation and knowledge of how to read the IPA (International Phonic Alphabet – which comes in handy since opera singers often perform songs in languages they can’t speak!).
The man heard on the dictionary site pronouncing “laurel” is former CATS (from Broadway’s original production) performer, Jay Aubrey Jones. Yanny, it turns out, isn’t even a real word, though @VocabularyCom humorously made an actual page for the invented word: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/yanny
As the word debate made its way to nightly news stories and late night television’s jokes, experts began to emerge and explain the nature of phonics and why it IS possible (sorry #teamYanny and #teamLaurel) to hear BOTH words. Although it is hard to imagine if you understand one of the two very clearly, the auditory illusion is partially due to frequencies.
Brad Story, professor of speech, language, and audiology at the University of Arizona said that since the audio recording is of low quality, it creates an ambiguous sound. Also, as detailed to Vox, professor of audiology at University of Minnesota, Benjamin Munson, indicated that Yanny is heard at higher frequencies and Laurel at lower frequencies. Meanwhile, another expert, Kevin Franck, director of audiology at a Boston Hospital says the audio illusion is similar to the Necker Cube illusion pictured here:
Mostly, though the word pronounced by Jones WAS intended as “laurel,” older people whose hearing has diminished (at least at hearing higher frequencies) are more likely to hear it as such, while younger people might be more apt at hearing “yanny” due to their sensitivity to high frequencies. This accuracy is worsened by the quality of the recording, which creates more ambiguity to the listener.
Proof that it is possible to hear both are found in manipulated versions, where different frequencies are enhanced to listen to it both ways. New York Times created a handy yanny laurel tool; you can listen to it here:
Although a listener hears “laurel” isn’t a failed hearing test (meaning you don’t have if you heard “laurel” since that was the intended clip), it also doesn’t mean you’re going crazy should people hear “yanny” as Hetzel did!
At its best, Yanny is a new word which proves that the internet is a weird place where anything can happen. From new words to viral videos, or even the need to search for an online friend you suspect might be a catfish or not whom they say (sadly words aren’t the only things that aren’t how they come across).