Skip to content

What About This? – Wayne William Cipriano 8.9.18

I’m sure almost everyone has heard and taken a position on the YANNI / LAURAL controversy by now. If you are one of the few who has not, you can’t understand the problem until you have heard the sound that a computer-generated voice makes while saying this word several times.

What word is being said, or more precisely, what word is being heard, is the controversy. Is the machine repeating “LAURAL” or “YANNI” three times?

Initially, we couldn’t understand the confusion. Both Rosalie and myself heard the sound being made by that computer voice very distinctly, no question at all. We agreed that the word was so clearly annunciated that no one telling the truth could possibly report hearing anything else.

In fact, the two alternatives between which we were to choose as the actual word being generated (YANNI/LAURAL) were so different in spelling, pronunciation, letter sounds, and so on that we suspected the whole thing was some sort of practical joke. After all, the only thing the two words have in common is two syllables each.

No one could possible disagree with our choice. We didn’t even have to voice that choice since it was so very obvious which word (LAURAL/YANNI) was being generated.

Several weeks after the “controversy” died down, we heard someone make reference to it on a television program that was being re-broadcast, a re-run. And once again we heard the word and once again were amazed that anyone would say they heard the other word or believed in that declaration.

One of us said, “Of course, the word is without a doubt plainly LAURAL!” and the other one of us said, “What? The word is YANNI, not LAURAL, not even close to LAURAL. Are you kidding?”

How very interesting that these two words which look so differently in print, consist of such different letter sounds when a person speaks them, and are so easily discriminated during normal speech, are reported to be confusing when generated by mechanical means.

Even more mystifying is how Rosalie and I, having lived together for so many years, spoken and perceived millions and millions of words between ourselves, could hear this sound differently.

How could she be so wrong about this word?