What does “laurel” vs “yanni” tell us about hearing loss?

Much has been made about the recent viral audio/video debate about a single word. Some people hear only “Laurel”, and some only “Yanni.” Some hear either, depending on what they are told they will hear, and some hear both on successive trials. What has caused this discrepancy between two seemingly unrelated words, and how does hearing loss enter into the perception of the word?

It turns out the original word was a recording of “laurel.” A well-recorded version of this word played through high quality speakers or headphones should be unmistakable. The reason for the differing perceptions has to do with the frequencies that make up the “l” and “ee” sounds. The “l” as in laurel has mostly low frequencies. The “ee” sound some hear at the beginning and end of the word contains low AND high frequencies, due to a more closed mouth and throat.

A manipulated version of the word “laurel” with added high frequencies has complicated the matter for many ears and caused the viral phenomenon. Some listeners appear to place high priority on high frequency sounds and hear “Yanni”, and others emphasize low frequencies and hear the original word. Expectations of a particular word prior to listening may also have an effect.

In any case we see how a subtle change in perception can cause us to substitute an incorrect word when listening. This is what happens to individuals with hearing loss. Common mistakes on word testing of hearing impaired patients include “bake” for “date”, “use” for “youth” and “rib” for “lid.” Mishearing just a portion of a sound can cause a cascading effect of miscommunication, well beyond mistaking your Aunt Laurel for your Uncle Yanni.

Awareness is always the first step towards improvement. As always we want to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.

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