'Yanny' versus 'laurel': An expert weighs in on the debate

Are you Team Yanny or Team Laurel? An expert explains the phenomenon.

May 15, 2018, 10:55 PM

"Yanny" versus "laurel."

It is a fight that's consumed the internet and ruined productivity in offices everywhere this week, as people listen to a clip and pick a side.

Whether you insist you hear "laurel" or "yanny," an expert settled the debate, or at least tried to explain it, for ABC News' Brad Mielke on the "Start Here" podcast.

Dr. Bharath Chandrasekaran, an associate professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Texas at Austin, said he's Team Laurel, but he also believes both sides are correct.

“The technical reason is this is what our brain does all the time,” he explained, adding that you use context, visuals and sound cues to understand exactly what word you're hearing.

“We do a lot with what little auditory information goes into our brain, so we're constantly making predictions. And in this case, there's a lot of ambiguity in the cues partly because it's a noisy clip with no context and no visual cues to help you out."

He said part of the problem is we don't know the origin of the clip. We know it was first posted on Reddit three days ago and went viral on Twitter Tuesday, but that’s about it.

Chandrasekaran said he wanted to know whether the recording was altered, who the speaker is, whether there's more than one speaker and if there's something that we can't hear hidden in the frequencies and influencing how we perceive the sounds.

"Without context, conversational speech can sound really, really weird." he said on “Start Here.” "So I wouldn't be surprised if this is unaltered. And when you add in a face, or when you add in some kind of semantic context that biases you toward one particular word, then our brain just starts making sense of what's inherently a noisy signal."

If you're neither Team Yanny nor Team Laurel, and more of a Team This is Ridiculous, Chandrasekaran has some bad news.

"I don't think this debate is going to end very soon. I think it's just started. I'm very curious and I hope somebody nails this down as to where this came from and whether it's been altered in some way."

ABC News' Brad Mielke and David Rind contributed to this report.

Listen to the interview with Dr. Bharath Chandrasekaran on Wednesday’s edition of ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast.

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