4 Aug 2010

Auditory Pareidolia

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Pareidolia refers to the human tendency to attribute meaning to random stimuli. Usually, when people talk about pareidolia they mean visual phenomena like Virgin Marys appearing on pieces of toast and the like. But pareidolia can be auditory as well.

And as Phil Plait points out, when you are primed with subtitles, it's very easy to hear something that isn't there. However, I would argue that the video that Plait links isn't really pareidolia. It's a real song, with actual lyrics that make sense. The subtitles merely encourage you to hear something else. In other words, the subtitles are an artificially induced mondegreen (given the title "auteur du mondegreen" here).

This video (via Greg Laden), however, shows what I think is real auditory pareidolia.

Actually, there are two different instances. The toddler has obviously been taught to perform (can you say child abuse?), but to my mind, the utterances are all late-stage babbling: there's an intonational resemblance to speech, but no actual words. Yet the audience appears to think he (she?) is preaching (pareidolia #1).

The second is the one induced by the subtitles, which are hilarious.

And where the subtitles say "I'm seething," I suspect that the reaction from the audience at that point ("Jesus") is their interpretation of the same thing. I originally heard "I'm sleepy" for that phrase, so there's pareidolia #3 for you.



I wonder if he's been taught to perform, or if he has just watched too many preachers of the type he's emulating with his babbling. There are a lot of kids who are quite uninhibited and love to perform. On the other hand he is being used and what is funny in one's home is not necessarily appropriate in public. The subtitles are hilarious.

This is a lot like the buffalaxed video. This person took a musical number from a colorful Indian film, and added english subtitles based on what he thought they were saying. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZA1NoOOoaNw

Although it's another auteur du mondegreen (or soramimi). And for me, I know only a small bit of Tamil, but that's just enough that those subtitles on the Benny Lava video fail for me. That is, they don't actually prompt me to hear what the subtitles suggest. Even though my Tamil isn't good enough to do more than pick out a few words here and there, but I can follow the grammatical morphemes well enough that that limited knowledge suffices to block the suggestions of the subtitles. I can't really explain why that is the case, since the same process does work for me on the hymn that Plait presents, and there the original language is English, which of course I know rather better. BTW, there's a nice phonetic analysis of the Benny Lava video here.