As It Happens

It's Laurel not Yanny, says source of viral clip

To get the right answer, As It Happens called up Marc Tinkler of Vocabulary.com, where the original audio came from.

The original source of the contentious piece of audio comes from a recording on Vocabulary.com

An audio clip from Vocabulary.com has baffled the internet, with users arguing whether it says "Yanny" or "Laurel." (Twitter via @CloeCouture)
Listen5:53

You're either Team Laurel. Or, Team Yanny.

A viral audio clip has led to a vigorous debate about whether a voice was saying "Yanny" or "Laurel." 

According to Vocabulary.com's co-founder Marc Tinkler, the correct answer is "Laurel." The clip came from an audio word definition from the website and was recorded more than 10 years ago.

Tinkler spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off. Here is part of their conversation. 

Marc, why do you think people are so fascinated with this Yanny/Laurel thing?

It's just one of those things that seems to divide people so evenly and it's so fascinating that even within people in my office and myself, like sometimes I hear "Yanny" and sometimes I hear "Laurel." I think it's just fascinating to people like, how can that be?

We'll play it again here. What do you hear?

The audio clip that has left internet users debating originally came from Vocabulary.com 0:03

Well just then, I heard "Laurel." But I have to say the first time I heard it, I heard "Yanny." It seems to depend on the audio or how far I am from where it's being played. It's hard to tell.

You know, the funny thing is when I first heard it, I walked into the office...everyone was like, "Have you heard this? Have you heard this?" And they played it for me. And I was positive it was "Yanny." There was no doubt about it. And then when they showed me where it was from — that it was from our website — I was totally astounded.

What is the actual word we're hearing?

It's "Laurel."

It's recorded as Laurel on your Vocabulary.com site?

It was part of a project that we did to record every word in the English language for our dictionary. And it's "Laurel."

Whose voice is it? Is it computer generated?

No, it's actually a person. Back when we did the project, we realized we needed to get a lot of audio recordings very quickly and we needed people to pronounce the words correctly. So we hired about 10 opera singers here locally in New York to pronounce every word in the dictionary. Essentially what we did was we set them up with a microphone and a computer in a DIY sound booth, and they would see a word on the screen, they would say it and then it would be reviewed by two other people and go onto our website.

Do you actually know the person who is saying "Laurel" there?

Yes I do. Unfortunately we haven't been able to contact him today, so I don't want to say exactly who it is. But I can share this bit of information, which is that he is a member of the original cast of Cats.

What are you hearing are the theories as to why some people hear Yanny there?

I think...when you're hearing "Laurel", you're hearing the lower frequencies, like the lower registers. And if you're hearing more of just the upper registers, it's basically the same pattern that the pronunciation "Yanny" would produce. So it really depends a lot on your hearing as well as the sound card and the computer and the speakers that you're using.

Where did this come to public awareness? It's kind of weird that one little word among the entire English language that you have recorded should have been discovered to have two sounds. 

Yeah, and what's interesting is that this was actually recorded in December 2007. It's been out there waiting for someone to discover it for all this time.

What we understand is that there is a student in Georgia who recorded this because he was learning "Laurel" on Vocabulary.com and he was listening to it and he also heard the dual nature of it.  He made a recording of it, and played it to his friends in the classroom. They also had the same debate essentially. So he posted it on his on Instagram, and then it got posted to Reddit and then from there, it just took off.

Written by Samantha Lui. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. This Q&A has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.