Saturday, May 19, 2018

Yanny or Laurel? Haduken or Hadoken?

OK, believe it or not, I only just bothered to check up on this whole "Yanny" craze.

It's funny, because when I first heard it (it was on a clip of the Ellen show), I swear all I heard was "Yanny," and I thought Ellen was yanking people's cranks.

However, I just looked at the video again, and now I hear "Laurel."

But this wouldn't be the first time I've seen this "What do you hear?" craze.

Back in 2005, there was a similar thing in Japan.

Back in the days when smart phones were just beginning to be a thing, the latest craze was changing the sounds on your phone, including your ring tone, the sound your phone made when you opened it up (yes, once upon a time, phones folded up and opened like clams), and what sound it made when you took a picture. (This was a shutter sound by default.)

Do you remember?

Well, on some phones, there was a clip of an angry man saying "Tottanokayo!" (撮ったのかよ!You took my picture didn't you!!!) available, and it became popular very quickly.

It made the news and social media, because half the Japanese population was hearing "Tottanokayo!", while the other half was hearing... wait for it...

I know right? Totally different!

The explanation I heard was that when speech comes through a tiny little speaker, sounds tend to get distorted.

In particular, plosive sounds, such as /k/, /p/ and /t/ and unvoiced fricative sounds, such as /f/ and /s/ tend to be distorted and hard to make out.

Actually, one theory I've heard before was that actually, all those sounds are essentially all the same when coming out of a small distorted speaker like that, but that the only reason humans are able to hear it is that our brains fill in the gaps; we're already conditioned to want to hear understandable speech. (I wouldn't know what that theory was called though, so if anyone out there knows, please let me know in the comments.)

Haduken vs Hadoken Phenomenon
I remember in elementary school, all the cool kids knew what Ryu and Ken were saying when they threw their signature fireballs.

"It's 'Haduket!' (hah-doo-kit) Psh. Duh..."

"Are you sure? Because I heard 'Hadukiss.'"

"'Hadukiss?' It's 'Haduken.' Where are you hearing 'ss?'"

So maybe the "What are you hearing?" phenomenon is a little older than I thought.

Looking back, I think I know what was happening.

Most of us were native English and/or native Spanish speakers, and we did the best we could to make out the recording of sounds which come from a completely different language, Japanese.

So what are Ken and Ryu saying when they release their famous projectile?

It's actually "Hadoken!" (波動拳, lit. wave, movement fist) and I was surprised when a Japanese person told me that this is what it was.

HaDOken, with the long "o" sound of "doe" or "dough."

How could that be?

I swear to you that that sounds like "HaDUken," with "du" as in "hair do."

And it's funny, because just how I finally was able to hear "Laurel" instead of "Yanni," years later, I play Street Fighter II on a friend's SNES Mini, and to my greatest surprise, as if it had always been that way (because it always actually was), I was able to hear Ryu say "HaDOken," as my Japanese friend told me.

I was dumbfounded.

I can only deduce that after years of studying the language and practicing pronunciation with native Japanese speakers, I just learned to listen for different sounds.

For example, the sound "du" is does not naturally occur in the Japanese language, so to Japanese years "HaDUken" would sound unnatural; they want to hear, and could only hear "HaDOken."

Another utterance I could never get right until today was what Ryu and Ken yelled when they did their famous whirlwind kick.

In school, I think we all pretty much knew no one knew exactly what Ryu and Ken were saying, so we all just kinda said "eh."

What could YOU hear?

Because as a kid, all I could make out was "Tat mak ken poh kyak!"

And having learned Japanese and all the sounds and pronunciation, I now know what he says!

And, in retrospect, I wasn't all that far off! (Yesss!)

It's "tatsu maki sen puu kyaku." (竜巻旋風脚, lit. "Tornado Wirlwind Foot)

When I first saw this in the instruction manual for the SNES cartridge, I was like "No way. This book raves! There is no way Ryu is saying that!!

But he was, and now I know exactly why I, or anyone else couldn't hear it; we would have never known the rules for Japanese pronunciation, which say that i's and u's at the end of syllables tend to be silent.

Coupled with the fact that sounds from a video game are heavily distorted (compressed to fit in a game cartridge with, at the time, limited space, and playing through a TV speaker with background music), and all any native English-speaker with untrained ears would hear was "TAT MAK KEN POW KYAK!"

Me: "Tat mak ken poh kyak!"


I'd say it's pretty close right?

I want readers to pay attention to the sounds I couldn't hear when I first heard this phrase: /t/ /s/ /k/

Unfortunately, that doesn't explain "Laurel" vs "Yanni" though.


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