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'Laurel' vs. 'Yanny'? We turn to an expert to settle this debate that's driving people mad

In less than 24 hours, the Internet divided the online universe into two uncompromising camps: team Yanny and team Laurel — the debate that launched a thousand clicks.
In less than 24 hours, the Internet divided the online universe into two uncompromising camps: team Yanny and team Laurel — the debate that launched a thousand clicks.

In less than 24 hours, the Internet divided the online universe into two uncompromising camps: team Yanny and team Laurel — the debate that launched a thousand clicks.

For those few remaining unbiased, the audio file making the rounds at megawatt speed asks listeners to vote on the word being repeated.

Some hear Yanny. Some hear Laurel.

And no neutral ground exists, as evidenced by these local tweets.

The dividing line is just as firm nationwide and among the famous as well. Stephen King and model Chrissy Teigen weighed in with differing opinions.

So this conundrum has fallen squarely into the laps of speech scientists. It turns out, luckily, that everyone is right, echoing "The Dress" debate from 2015, which split the known world between gold and white and blue and black.

A linguist performed a spectrogram on the file and discovered the sound isn't actually Yanny or Laurel, but something in-between, said Dr. Philip Griffin, a clinical audiologist at the UNC Hearing and Communication Center.

"That ambiguity allows people to fall on either side," he said. "It's kind of like a Rorschach test for the ears."

All sorts of factors influence the brain's choice:

Yanny appears on the left of the test, so it might get stuck in the head first.

Yanny is green and Laurel is pink, and the brain might select based on color. Dialect might influence the choice, and so might hearing loss.

Griffin also speculated that cultural background might come into play. If you're surrounded by people named Laurel, the brain might lean to more Laurels.

"Yanny is a Greek name," Griffin said, noting the composer and performer with a similar spelling. "Someone who appreciates New Age music might be more apt to appreciate that."

Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, @joshshaffer08
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