As the world begins to make amends from all the arguments caused by the “Yanny vs Laurel debate”, a new study has sought to understand another way in which our ears can play tricks on us (it definitely said Laurel, by the way).
If you repeat a short phrase over and over again, you’ll notice it starts to gain a rhythmic quality, almost as if it’s being sung. Researchers call this phenomenon the “speech-to-song illusion” and it could be used to understand how we process language, as reported in the journal PLOS ONE.
"There's this neat auditory illusion called the Speech-to-Song Illusion that musicians in the '60s knew about and used to artistic effect – but scientists didn't start investigating it until the '90s," explained lead author Professor Michael Vitevitch, chair of psychology at the University of Kansas.
"The illusion occurs when a spoken phrase is repeated – but after it's repeated several times it begins to sound like it's being sung instead of spoken."
You can listen to this effect for yourself in the audio clip above. It features an experimental song created by composer Steve Reich in 1965, produced using only an audio clip of a preacher shouting "It's gonna rain!" When you first hear the three words, it sounds like a normal phrase, however, it quickly begins to take the form of a rhythmic song.
To figure out why this happens, the researchers gathered 30 of their students and put them through a series of listening experiments. They were shown six different sets of words, each with different numbers of words or syllables. They even tried out one variation with Spanish words on a group of non-Spanish speakers. The participants were then asked to rate the different phrases in terms of how much they sounded like a song. You can listen to one of the audio clips in the player below.