Why Some Hear ‘Yanny,’ Others ‘Laurel’
Posted on May 16, 2018
Summer is almost here. Why shouldn’t your life be taken over by the growing national debate over a viral audio clip that everyone hears differently?
It surfaced on the internet Monday night, thanks to a 20-year-old Instagram “influencer” named Chloe Feldman. Now, it’s being played in classrooms, dorms, offices – anywhere two or more people with ears to hear gather.
The attraction is that some listeners hear the audio’s robotic voice saying “yanny” while someone standing right next to them perceives the voice saying “laurel.” The debate took over social media and even spilled into legacy media, where it was covered by The Atlantic and The New York Times. (The latter included a decoder, and you can hear the clip on either site.)
The audio surfaced during “Better Speech and Hearing Month,” perhaps providing a clue to its origin and the reason people should pay close attention to it.
Dr. Elizabeth Adams, chair and associate professor of speech pathology and audiology at the University of South Alabama, said there are good reasons why people are hearing different words, and more importantly, why you should pay attention to what you hear:
- Hearing is a very complex task! We use frequency, or pitch, as well as the intensity and timing variations in speech to process and understand what is being said. A big part of that understanding, though, really is the pitch of the letters within each word being spoken.
- We hear a very wide range of pitches, at many different loudness levels. Sometimes, the ability of a person to hear different pitches decreases, which changes the sound we ultimately hear when the signal reaches our brain. We actually “hear” with our brain. The ears are just a way to get the sound in so that it can be processed.
- In the case of the Laurel/Yanny debate, the most likely factor leading to differences in how people hear the word as “laurel” or “yanny” is their hearing sensitivity. The word “yanny” has more high pitch sounds, so if your hearing is really good in the high frequencies, you likely hear “yanny”. If your hearing in the high frequencies is not as good, you likely hear “laurel” because the word “laurel” contains predominantly low frequency, or low pitch, energy.
- The bottom line is if you only hear “laurel,” it might be time to see your audiologist to have your hearing tested. And, what better time since May is Better Speech and Hearing Month!
Dr. Elizabeth Adams has a certificate of clinical competence in audiology from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and an Alabama license in audiology from the Alabama Board of Examiners in Speech Pathology and Audiology. In the 2016-2017 academic year, she served as a Provost Faculty Fellow at the University.
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