Yanny or Laurel? Linguist explains why people are hearing different words

Yanny or Laurel? That is the big question popping up on social media this week. An audio clip is stirring up debate over which of these two words is actually being said in the recording.

It's like a magic eye illusion, but for your ears. The clip was first posted on Reddit and has since gone viral on social media by YouTube personality Cloe Feldman.

FOX 5 could not think of any other place to go to but to Laurel, Maryland, to ask people what they were hearing when they listened to this hotly-debated viral audio clip.

It’s led to arguments for some couples.

“I hear Yanny,” one woman said. “He said I hear Laurel. I said that is the reason we always argue. We hear something totally different.”

And for some, it has led to a back-and-forth and even a change of heart on what they actually heard.

“Okay, I come very close. I do hear Laurel. But when I was standing here, it was Yanny,” another woman said.

“They are definitely trippin' because Laurel is what he's saying,” another Laurel resident said.

Since this debate doesn't appear to be settled anytime soon with supporters on both sides, we went to a linguist to help us understand why different people are hearing different things.

“It gave people the option of hearing it in two different ways – one is that this is a deep, big male saying the word ‘Laurel.’ Alternatively, if you interpret it as smaller man and a very synthetic voice, you will hear ‘Yanny,’” said Abby Walker, a linguist, assistant professor and co-director of The Speech Lab at Virginia Tech. “So essentially, it is about whether you are paying more attention to the high frequency sounds or low frequency sounds.”

She also said it comes down to how good your hearing is as well as your speakers.

"That’s part of what is fun about this – it doesn't feel like there is a choice. It feels very obvious what the answer is and that is part of how our linguistics system is designed for us – to just make a hardcore decision,” said Walker.

However, for those people that hear “Yanny,” Laurel residents have a message for them – you're probably not from Laurel.