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The Speed of Language

THE SPEED OF
LANGUAGE

Ever wondered why some languages sound like they're spoken much faster than others? Japanese sounds faster than German, Spanish certainly sounds faster than English. Yet, if you watch a dubbed foreign movie, the translated dialogue matches with the original exactly - even seemingly to the actors' mouth movement. WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?

That's pretty much what three researchers at UNIVERSITE DE LYON were wondering,
WHEN THEY SET OUT TO COMPLETE A STUDY ON THE SPEED OF LANGUAGE.

So,

They gathered up 59 volunteers of 40 MEN 29 WOMEN

Each of whom spoke one of 7 languages
ENGLISH
FRENCH
GERMAN
ITALIAN
JAPANESE
MANDARIN
SPANISH

And made 585 recordings with an overall duration of:
150 minutes

Every volunteer recorded the following phrase in his or her language:
"Last night I opened the front door to let the cat out. IT WAS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL EVENING THAT I WANDERED DOWN THE GARDEN FOR A BREATH OF FRESH AIR.
THEN I HEARD A CLICK AS THE DOOR CLOSED BEHIND ME.
I REALIZED I'D LOCKED MYSELF OUT.
TO CAP IT ALL, I WAS ARRESTED WHILE I WAS TRYING TO FORCE THE DOOR OPEN!"

So WHAT DID THEY FIND?
The researchers counted all the syllables in each of the recordings and analyzed how much meaning each syllable conveyed - called the "density" of a syllable, and, it turns out:

You can compare the speed of the languages:
SPANISH
7.82 SYLLABLES/SEC
is indeed faster than
ENGLISH
6.9 SYLLABLES/SEC

The Chinese
5.18 SYLLABLES/SEC
take it easy
While the
JAPANESE
7.84 SYLLABLES/SEC
"outspeak" us all.

BUT
take a look at their information density*
*Vietnamese is set as the base density of 1.

(least dense)
Japanese 0.49
Spanish 0.63
English 0.91
Chinese 0.94
(most dense)

AND IT TURNS OUT...
LESS DENSE LANGUAGES SOUND FASTER
AND MORE DENSE LANGUAGES SOUND SLOWER

IN OTHER WORDS
WE MAY SPEAK LANGUAGES
THAT SOUND VASTLY DIFFERENT,
BUT IN THE END
WE'RE ALL SAYING THE SAME THING.

The Speed of Language

shared by visually on Feb 29, 2012 in Education

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26 comments

Ever wondered why some languages sound like they're spoken much faster than others? Yet, in dubbed movies the words seemingly fit the actors' mouth movement. That's what researchers at Universite de L...
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