Disruption

Thoughts and Observations
17
May 2018

Laurel Or Yanny? If It’s Not A Gender Thing, What Is It?

laurel or yanny what did you hear

This is not the first time we’ve been asked by the internet to choose what we think we’re taking in by way of information? I’m not sure where it all started, but for me it was the stripes in the dress back in 2015.

Apparently it’s not just what we see, it’s what we hear too. Do you hear Yanny or Laurel? From Twitter, click below:

It’s being passed around as a gender thing. Men hear Yanny and women hear Laurel. That isn’t so. I began asking people I knew to tell me what they heard, and most people I asked, regardless of gender heard Yanny. So I started to dig, in order to find out what a more scientific explanation might be?

Apparently there isn’t a definitive one yet, but there are some great explanations….

Some experts suggest that sound quality, device quality and headphones can make a difference. Some suggest age. One article on CNN quotes Professor Brad Story as saying,

“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.”
It seems as though it has to do with acoustic patterns and the frequencies we attend to. From a New York Times article, Patricia Keating, a linguistics professor and the director of the phonetics lab at U.C.L.A., says,

“The energy concentrations for Ya are similar to those for La,” she said. “N is similar to r; I is close to l. It depends on what part (what frequency range) of the signal you attend to. I have no idea why some listeners attend more to the lower frequency range while others attend more to the higher frequency range?

To fully understand this, you must visit this New York Times post where they’ve created a tool that allows you to change the frequency (higher and lower) in order to hear both Yanny and Laurel.

What Does This All Mean?

I recently wrote about some work we’re doing for a client around building low-data-usage mobile-phone-platform training for a client. At that time I was creating a series on communication. I was reminded of the many forms of communication, as well as the skills one should develop to ensure better communication. However, I didn’t come across anything to help with the idea, that is clearly illustrated in this sound clip, that even when we’re clear and simple in our communication, and even when people listen actively and attentively, there are some words we say that could be heard completely differently depending on frequency (and some other factors).

For example what if ‘incredible’ was heard as ‘fat’
Him: Honey you look incredible in that dress!

Or if ‘deposit’ was heard as ‘steal’
You to Bank Teller: I’ve come to deposit some money

Communication is tough enough without having to add this into the mix 🙂

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