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A new 'Laurel-or-Yanny'? This aural trick might have you hearing spoken words as song

Do you start to hear singing?

When these words and phrases are repeated, you should perceive them as being more song-like by about the fourth or fifth cycle. If you listen to them for a few times, the shift from speech to song might occur sooner the next time you hear it.
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When these words and phrases are repeated, you should perceive them as being more song-like by about the fourth or fifth cycle. If you listen to them for a few times, the shift from speech to song might occur sooner the next time you hear it.

By now you probably know whether you're Team Laurel or Team Yanny.

You listened to the viral audio clip and heard either the word "Laurel" or "Yanny." it eluded consensus.

Now there's new aural trickery from researchers at the University of Kansas that might get you to hear spoken word as singing.

A team from KU investigated an illusion where a particular spoken phrase, repeated several times, begins to sound like it's being sung instead of spoken.. The research was published on Monday in the peer-reviewed 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,” Michael Vitevitch, professor and chairman of psychology at KU, told KU News Service.

The Speech-to-Song Illusion is credited to University of California San Diego psychology professor Diana Deutsch, who discovered it In 1995 when she was honing the spoken commentary on her CD, ‘Musical Illusions and Paradoxes," according to her website.

She had the phrase ‘sometimes behave so strangely’ on a loop and realized, after hearing it repeated several times, it started sounding like singing.

Click here to hear it.

Vitevitch said other studies have examined how this happens and have found, for instance, that it works in English, German and Mandarin.

“But nobody had a good explanation about how this illusion was coming about in the first place,” Vitevitch told the university's news service. “A lot of the researchers who looked at this were music-perception scientists, but there weren’t a lot of people coming at it from the speech-and-language side.

"I brought some of these models of how language processing works to see if that might explain what’s going on with this illusion.”

He designed six experiments and conducted them with 30 undergraduate and graduate student researchers in the psychology department’s Spoken Language Laboratory.

He based them on a model of language processing called Node Structure Theory, which holds that word and syllable nodes act as "detectors" when we hear syllables, words and phrases.

Those detectors, just like muscles, get worn out, Vitevitch told KU News Service.

"As you use them, they get tired," he said. "Word nodes are like sprinting muscles and syllable nodes are like endurance muscles.”

The experiments suggested that the word detectors fire up and are active when they first hear speech, but get tired as phrases are repeated.

The syllable detectors don't tire as quickly when they hear phrases repeated.. Because syllables carry "the rhythmic information of language," he said, continual stimulation of those syllable detectors makes you think you're hearing song.

Click here to hear the phrase "letter muscle berry babble" sound like spoken words.

Click here to hear those words, repeated, sound like singing.

Or do they?

Vitevitch said the Speech-to-Song Illusion might be seen as novelty - move over Laurel-or-Yanny - but it does more than amuse.

“All scientists are trying to look inside of a black box to understand what’s going on inside,” he told the KU news site.

“We’re all trying to understand the universe or the brain or how atoms work. So, any opportunity to get a crack in the black box where you can look inside, you need to take."

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