Whoa! Why Some Languages Sound So Much Faster Than Others

A terrifically fun article in Time Magazine on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, by Jeffrey Kluger describes something that virtually all of us have encountered at one time or another:  listening to someone else speaking a language we don’t understand and wondering why the heck they speak so fast.  You can find the article here: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2091477,00.html?xid=newsletter-weekly

Of course, we can graciously speculate that it’s probably because we don’t know what they’re saying that makes it sound so zip-zip-zip and that English must sound the same way to them, but guess what?  The answer really is far more interesting than that.

Researchers from the French Université de Lyon wondered, too, and they recently did a study to find out why.  You can read the details in the article, but in short they discovered that some languages are more “dense” than others, meaning that some languages say more in fewer syllables than others and don’t have to fit as much into the same time period as others to say the same thing.  So, while English is a relatively “dense” language and can be spoken at a little slower pace to impart meaning, Spanish, it turns out as one example, is less dense than English, and so it IS spoken faster to make up for it.  And the fastest spoken language of the 8 tested was the least dense of all, which was…..Japanese!

So, it isn’t your imagination running away with you when you hear another language and think, “Whoa there–not so fast!”  Everybody is trying to get their thoughts out in a similar period of time, and depending on the language you happen to speak, you may just  have to “giddy-up”!

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