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Audio clip spurs social media debate over Yanny or Laurel

By The Associated Press and CNN  |  Posted May 16th, 2018 @ 10:34am


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NEW YORK (AP/CNN) — Do you hear what I hear?

That's the question as a short audio clip has sparked a social media debate about whether the word is "yanny" or "laurel." How one hears it is similar to how people viewed a dress on the internet three years ago.

The debate began on Reddit and expanded throughout social media. Ellen DeGeneres tweeted everything at her show stopped to see what people heard. She said she heard Laurel. But New Age musician Yanni was in the Yanny camp.

Some people speculated the age of the listener might determine what people heard, while others changed the pitch to alter results.

As for the dress, some people said it was white and gold while others saw blue and black.

There's a simple explanation for why people perceive one thing so differently — and science can explain it.

"Part of it involves the recording," said Brad Story, professor of speech, language and hearing at the University of Arizona. "It's not a very high quality. And that in itself allows there to be some ambiguity already."

Then, he said, you have to take into account the different ways people are listening to this — through mobile phones, headphones, tablets, etc.

That aside, Story ran an acoustic analysis on the viral recording of the computerized voice. He also recorded himself saying "Yanny" and "Laurel," for comparison.

"When I analyzed the recording of Laurel, that third resonance is very high for the L. It drops for the R and then it rises again for the L," he said. "The interesting thing about the word Yanny is that the second frequency that our vocal track produces follows almost the same path, in terms of what it looks like spectrographically, as Laurel."

OK, so what does that all mean?

"If you have a low quality of recording, it's not surprising some people would confuse the second and third resonances flipped around, and hear Yanny instead of Laurel."

Story also said that, if you change the pitch of the original recording, you can hear both words.

"Most likely the original recording was 'Laurel,'" he said.

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