Oh, yeah, everyone does it. They hear the lyrics to a favorite song and then begin trying to sing them. The problem is the actual words are often hard to understand, given the music covering them or the artist’s intonation. Yet, that does not seem to matter to the human mind. People go ahead and create their own similar-sounding lyrics, which sometimes stick in their heads for a lifetime. That is unless somebody hears them singing and points out the error. At times, this revelation proves embarrassing, in other situations, it is comical.
So common are these mistaken lyrics that they have a name: mondegreens. Writer Sylvia Wright receives credit for first using the term in a November 1954 Harper’s Magazine article. Today, most dictionaries include the word, proving its widespread acceptance in the English language.
Why Do People Produce Mondegreens?
Well, it seems the creation of substitute lyrics for those one cannot accurately hear, or misunderstands, is an example of our humanity. People are social creatures and want to connect with the world around them. This sociability occurs even when listening to music. We want to sing along with the artist, joining him or her on stage or in the studio. Similar to our often failed attempts to Moonwalk like Michael Jackson, hopefully in the privacy of a bedroom, we try to imitate the words of songs.
The question researchers posed recently was whether computers can also produce mondegreens? After all, artificial intelligence is supposedly going to replace humans in workplaces sometime in the future. Perhaps a test of technology’s ability to interpret song lyrics in a flawed, yet, rational-sounding manner, would provide evidence of just how close science has come to replacing human thought.
Well, that is just what researchers sought to do. They set up an experiment pitting human transcriptionists against the IBM Watson computer. Provided with four songs they had never previously heard, the two teams would compete to see which one was the better at accurately transcribing the lyrics and creating mondegreens.
The Song List:
Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Van Halen, “Runnin With the Devil.”
Elton John, “Tiny Dancer.”
Brad Paisley, “Ticks.”
Overall, the computer failed to actually provide competition for the humans. In fact, Watson made many errors; meanwhile, the human professionals had a grand total of zero mistakes. Moreover, Watson’s error-filled lyrics (33 total mistakes, including 29 missing words) remained disjointed, providing no mondegreens, as people do when making lyrical misjudgments.
So, for now, using this experience as evidence, researchers have to conclude that artificial intelligence is not yet ready to supplant the human mind in creativity. However, who knows what the future may bring?