You’ve probably already heard about this. A sound recording that sounds like someone saying Laurel to some, and Yanny to others. It’s the successor to the dress, the one which appeared to be either black and blue, or white and gold.
With the dress, most people could see it both ways. You might look at it and see it clearly as blue and black, only to turn around and back again to see a clearly white-and-gold dress.
The Laurel or Yanny debate though, seems to be much more clearcut. People either hear one or the other, but usually not both. I played the clip on a loop yesterday, and heard Laurel again and again and again. And again.
I was surprised that I could only hear Laurel, and not recognise Yanny in there at all. I know that seemingly different words aren’t so distinct when you really listen to them, and we’re not always the best at picking up the exact details of what we hear. Usually that’s not a problem when we’re in conversation or watching a film, because we can roughly predict what the person is going to say because of the context. We know they’re not going to use completely unexpected words, so we hear most of the word, and our brains fill in the rest automatically based on our expectations.
Where this process fails us a little is with songs. There words are used differently, because they have to conform to the rhythm of the song, and of course because the songwriter might use a little more artistic licence in how they put words together. This is why we hear so many mondegreens: misheard song lyrics. Mondegreens are funny and interesting and funny in their own right, but they’re also a useful way to demonstrate how seemingly distinct words and phrases can actually sound very similar, when we’re lacking the context to make sense of what we’re hearing. Two words might seem superficially very different, but actually utilise very similar mouth and tongue movements to pronounce them.
I thought this might be the story behind Laurel/Yanny, and I expected at any moment to suddenly start hearing Yanny, like when you stare at one of those pictures and suddenly start seeing the old woman instead of the young woman, or the duck instead of the rabbit.
But when that didn’t happen, I became suspicious, and looked up the story behind the file. First of all, I came across this tweet demonstrating that those who can better detect higher frequencies will hear Yanny, while the rest of us with simpler ears hear Laurel.
However, it’s not simply a case that when we say Laurel, the higher frequencies of that utterance sound like Yanny. No-one’s quite sure where the clip comes from, but it seems to have been digitally manipulated to basically merge the two sounds together and create a deliberately divisive sound that a human wouldn’t naturally produce.
So whether you hear Yanny or Laurel, you’re not wrong. But if you hear Yanny, it’s worth considering that you might be a dog.