Dinner Table Conversation: Do You Hear What I Hear?

May 18, 2018
Credit: Tumblr/Swiked

Every once in a while, it seems like the whole world gets excited about something a bit silly. Three years ago, it was about a dress: was it blue and black, or was it white and gold? Just about everyone and their dog chimed in with an opinion, and those opinions were deeply divided. Isn’t it strange that we can’t agree on simple colors? Well, the mystery of the dress was resolved by neuroscientists who said it was indeed blue and black, but the brain interprets colors of the daylight sky differently, causing some to see white and gold instead.

This week, a new debate arose around a single word. Recently, a high schooler went to the website vocacbulary.com to learn how to pronounce the word laurel. Surprisingly, the student heard yanni instead. Friends at school couldn’t agree with each other, so they posted the audio clip on the internet, and it went viral (which means it got popular really quickly).

How could the pronunciation of a word sound so different? As it turns out, there are several factors explaining why people might perceive the same things differently, especially when it comes to audio. It could be how the brain interprets frequency. Or it might just be about perception or expectations. Age might also be a factor; older ears hear things differently than younger ears do. And it could also be due to what device you’re listening to—you might hear yanni on speakers but laurel on headphones, for example.

Have you listened to the audio clip? What do you hear?