The fastest spoken languages

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by avalon2004, Nov 19, 2006.

  1. avalon2004 Senior Member

    Merseyside, England
    UK- English/Spanish
    Hi all,

    I am sure there is another thread about this somewhere but since I can't find it, I'll ask the question anyway:

    What do you think is the fastest spoken language?

    Out of the several languages I am learning, I would say either Greek or Italian. As English is generally spoken a quite a slow speed I sometimes find it very difficult to follow such speedy discourse that is heard on Greek TV! I also think Spanish can be very fast at times, particularly in Spain. In contrast, Brazilian Portuguese appears to be somewhat slower and consequently I often end up understanding more on Brazilian shows than on Spanish ones (even though my knowledge of Portuguese is considerably less than Spanish).

    I have heard that the reasoning behind languages being spoken at different speeds is related to the number of vowel sounds and how easy it is to pronounce them, but I don't know much more than that!
  2. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    How do you define speed of speech?
  3. I have heard of French being the fastest and Polynesian and Micronesian langs - the slowest. I have also read that one and the same language - English - is much faster when it is spoken by a Brit than when it is spoken by an American.
  4. ronanpoirier

    ronanpoirier Senior Member

    Porto Alegre
    Brazil - Portuguese
    Funny. I think France French is faster than the one from Quebec. And European Portuguese is faster than the Brazilian one. And as Setwale Charm has read, British English is faster than the American one. And as avalon2004 said, Spain Spanish is faster than the American one! Isn't it curious?
  5. Lemminkäinen

    Lemminkäinen Senior Member

    Oslo, Norway
    Norwegian (bokmål)
    Hi :)

    First of all, let me quote a post from Language Log:

    Emphasis mine.

    In other words, the crux of this question is how you defined and measure speed of speech.

    Obviously the number of words won't work. What about number of syllables? Time to get the point across?

    I don't have any observations to make regarding different languages, but one thing that strikes me is that, despite some languages being percepted as 'faster' or 'slower' than others, how big a difference can it really be?

    After all, there are no languages like Tolkien's Entish, where it takes all day to say 'good morning'. It seems to me that the speech rate is pretty similar inter lingua (I have no idea whether you can use that phrase like that :p ), and that the language's phonology has a lot to do with it.

    Take Spanish for instance. A lot of people go on about how quickly Spanish is spoken so incredably quickly, and it doesn't have long vowels, but Finnish, which is often said to be a low-paced language, have long vowels and consonants.

    In other words, I think this is a subject almost just as subjective as the "which languages are the hardest/easiest to learn" debate, although it'd sure be interesting to see some research done on it.

    Remember folks, the plural of anecdote is not data :D
  6. Well, this is what I know (sorry, I am quoting from a printed source): the French pronounce on average 350 syllables in a minute. The Japanese - 310. The Polynesians - 50.
  7. ronanpoirier

    ronanpoirier Senior Member

    Porto Alegre
    Brazil - Portuguese
    Hum! Words size is interesting. What about Russian "zdrastvuytye" (or something like that) and Portuguese "oi", both meaning "hi". You take like your whole life to say that in Russian (ok, just overreacted a little :) )
  8. Never mind!! That`s just the reason why I usually skip the greeting:D. But what about Russian...think of Sinhala or Amerindian langs like Greenlandic in this connection!!
    Here is a sample of Greenlandic for ye. Solaqassusermik tarnillu nalunngissusianik pilersugaapput, imminnullu iliorfigeqatigiittariaqaraluarput qatanngutigiittut peqatigiinnerup anersaavani.
  9. Well, we are evidently just faster...thinking;) :p
  10. ronanpoirier

    ronanpoirier Senior Member

    Porto Alegre
    Brazil - Portuguese

    What does that mean? :-O
  11. I cannot swear but from what I know and as far as I took it from the Human Rights Declaration, it is somehting about the brotherhood of humans having the same reason and conscience.
  12. Ilmo

    Ilmo Member Emeritus

    You are quite right as to the Finnish, Lemminkäinen, because in my mother tongue the whole meaning of a word may change, if a long vowel, written always with a double letter, is not pronounced long enough. As an example, kaatua means "to fall" and katua means "to regret".
    By the way, it is not true that there is no long vowels in the Spanish. At least my opinion is that a vowel of an open syllable is always pronounced longer than a vowel if a closed syllable, though not as long as in Finnish, only 30-50 % longer than the short one - but the Spaniards do not hear it themselves! They don't distinguish the length of a vowel sound. For instance, listen how they pronounce the everyday greeting "hola".
  13. Beobachter Member

    English, USA
    50 syllables per minute? That doesn't seem plausible, and it doesn't correspond to what I have heard on recordings of Tongan and Samoan, for instance. Is it perhaps a typographical error?
  14. avalon2004 Senior Member

    Merseyside, England
    UK- English/Spanish
    What I meant by speed of speech is how quickly a Spanish person (for example) would say the following:

    Buenos días y bienvenidos al programa. Hoy tenemos con nosotros una de las estrellas más grandes del mundo latino... = 37 syllables
    I happened to time such an introduction and it came to just over six seconds.

    Compare with the English:
    Good morning and welcome to the show. Today we have one of the biggest stars of the Latin world with us. = 26 syllables
    Although that version is 11 syllables shorter, I predict that it would take about the same time as the Spanish version to be pronounced.

    Also, I think languages which in general have a lot of long words in their every day vocabulary are bound to be spoken faster because it would be a hindrance to communication if the painstakingly articulated every sound as clearly as they could! Take, for example the Greek words επικοινωνία and πραγματικότητα. They are both six syllables long and on their own would be pronounced [epikinonía] and [praghmatikótita] respectively. However, when they are used in the middle of a conversation their vowel sounds would be further reduced before the stressed syllable.
    I have noticed that whilst all languages ellide words together to some extent, the "fastest" ones do it all the time:
    Τι είναι αυτό που έχεις στα χέρια σου; [ti íne afto pou ékheis sta khéria sou] becomes [tínafto po'ekheis ta khérias].
  15. übermönch

    übermönch Senior Member

    Warum wohne ich bloß in so einem KAFF?
    World - 1.German, 2.Russian, 3.English
    From what i've read, the speed varies greatly depending on the economical situation - during the great depression americans supposedly spoke 200% faster :) Also, much depends on the place - The speed difference between Iberian and Mexican Spanish is huge!
  16. Ilmo

    Ilmo Member Emeritus

    A comparison with the Finnish:
    Hyvää päivää ja tervetuloa ohjelmaan. Tänään kanssamme on yksi latinalaisen maailman suurista tähdistä.
    = 35 syllables
    I tried to read it without unnecessary haste and I clocked 6.64 seconds.
    The difference to the Spanish version was less than I had expected.
  17. optimistique Senior Member

    While I agree that the rate of speaking may be highly subjective (a foreign language always sounds much faster than your own), it has turned out that Dutch is one of the quickest spoken languages in Europe, due to the fact that in spoken language we omit at least half the letters of a sentence (in spontaneous conversation).

    Just as avalon2004 has said, I think the fastest languages not only reduce unstressed vowels and bind all words together, but (at least Dutch does) also omit a lot of sounds in long words.

    Examples are words like "eigenlijk" (actually) -> pronounced as "ei'k" (of course only in the fast speech). The stupid thing is that when one pronounces "ei'k", you still perceive it more or less as "eigenlijk".

    And for comparison the Dutch translation of the already given sentence:

    Goedendag en welkom bij het programma. We hebben hier één van de grootste sterren uit Latijns-Amerika. = 28 syllables.
    I also read it without haste (even with a small pauze at the end of the first sentence), and I clocked 4 seconds. I don't think we will find a considerable difference between most languages, though.
  18. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
  19. ronanpoirier

    ronanpoirier Senior Member

    Porto Alegre
    Brazil - Portuguese
    Just something about my accent. We have long vowels and one long consonant. Although it's not a grammatical thing, all our stressed syllabes, semi-stressed syllabes and the vowel of the final syllabe are long. The only long consonante are the S or Z (sounding like /s/) when they happen in the end of a word and there's no other word following. There are another consonants which happen in the end of a word but the only one which would have a consonant sound is the R and it's not long (sounding like /r/). However final L is /w/ we treat it as semi-vowel. So I guess that makes some kind of influence in our accent. That's why others may say we speak "singing" somehow. :)
  20. Paulfromitaly

    Paulfromitaly MODerator

    Brescia (Italy)
    Are you sure about English being spoken slowly?? I've heard loads of people speaking Vicky-Pollard-wise and I wouldn't call it slow...
    However, it always depends on some folks' way of speaking their own language, not on the language itself.
  21. avalon2004 Senior Member

    Merseyside, England
    UK- English/Spanish
    Well you could argue that is down to social class, but I don't want to go down that road...
    Yes, obviously not everyone will speak the same speed but one has to admit that in general some languages are naturally spoken faster than others. If you take English for example- you only have to listen to Radio 4 (in the UK) for an example of how slow English can be sometimes! Plus, it would be considered quite rude if someone spoke very quickly whilst making a speech in English, whereas this is not so much the case with some other languages...
  22. Paulfromitaly

    Paulfromitaly MODerator

    Brescia (Italy)
    You were on about listening to the Greek (or any other country) Tv though and you must admit there are far too many let's say not well-spoken people on telly, therefore you need to bear that in mind when you're watching a TV programme..
    When I want to hear folks speak English well, I listen to the BBC announcers, not to Emmerdale, if you know what I mean...
    I don't agree: everybody who's taking a public speech and wants to be understood by their audience must talk correctly and with a standard speed, whatever language they are speaking, not only in English.
  23. Sorcha Senior Member

    Ireland, English
    I think people need to include Irish people speaking English, I have been told on countless occasions that people from Cork, and from Ireland speak at a ridiculously fast pace, and most of those were native speakers!
    thats my two cents on the matter anyway.
    Regards to all.
    PS I do think there is a difference between everyday speech and radio/television speech.
  24. avalon2004 Senior Member

    Merseyside, England
    UK- English/Spanish
    I agree 100%! I have often found that I couldn't understand what some Irish people were saying because they were speaking so fast! Don't mind the accents, though.
  25. joseluisblanco

    joseluisblanco Senior Member

    Español, Argentina
    I agree with Flaminus, if we consider this a subjective matter. Taking into account the relationship between speaking and thinking, I would not dare to say that any language is faster than any other.
    Nevertheless, I do believe that there are differences; maybe inflections, stresses or rythm that are articulated in such a rapid manner or in the contrary.
    The point to me is that no language "speaks concepts" faster than any other. Am I clear?
  26. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    I'm sorry to revive an ancient debate here, but I was redirected from a duplicated thread. Going in terms of the number of syllables spoken in a given time period in a standard conversation between fluent people, I would say that a lot of the languages of India are very fast. I am learning Tamil and I know I'm only a beginner, but I literally run out of breath trying to cram all of the syllables in in one go, and as for understanding a sentence, well I have a long way to go.
  27. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)

    Well, though I do abhor the use of a superlative in a question or statement related to language or language, I think we can solve this problem very easily.

    We only have to do two things:
    1. Define what we're talking about.
    2. Measure it.

    We only have two problems, so far:
    1. It seems that we don't know what we're talking about. Otherwise said: so far, nobody gave a definition of what we'd choose to understand by 'speed' when talking about the "fastest spoken language". This has been pointed out by many people in this thread before.
    2. It seems that we don't know what we're talking about, part 2: So far, nobody came up with data. If we can define (1), then we can measure it and then we can compare the data.

    So, may I suggest to stop with this armchair linguistic bable, and revive this thread as soon as the first set of data have been acquired.

    Let's go to wo'k.

  28. Beobachter Member

    English, USA
    I think "syllables per second" is a reasonable measure, but I'm not sure how one might acquire data. Here is one idea: I have seen reports of "words per minute" spoken by various well-known English speakers in particular speeches, and I imagine it would be easy to find (where?) a figure for "average number of syllables in an English word." Perhaps similar data could be acquired for other languages.

    I would find this information very interesting, since it would help to address the subjective impression that some languages seem to be spoken "faster" than others.
  29. jana.bo99

    jana.bo99 Senior Member

    Cro, Slo
    In Europe for me is Italian the fastest language. Even if I am very close to them I understand very little.
    If they would speak slowly I would understand much more.
  30. M07yth Member

    Provence, France
    English & Jamaican Creole
    I would say Caribbean Spanish... particularly Cuban Spanish.
  31. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Your last point is very valid. It seems that people very often get the impression that language X is spoken in a very fast way (a claim that maybe can be compared with the rather silly but current idea that people who speak language Y seem to be quarreling all the time).

  32. origumi Senior Member

    It seems that the number of syllabes or words is less important than the number of ideas.

    I propose the following test: ask speakers of different languages to read aloud in natural speed common text, for example a chapter of the Bible or War and Peace translated to their language, and measure the time it takes.
  33. shawnee

    shawnee Senior Member

    English - Australian
    Maria Hookli deserves a good whack over the head for the way she speeds through the Greek news. I hazard a guess that some of that speed you are speaking of avalon 2004, is a by product of a mindless rote learning system in the early years of education.
  34. enoo Senior Member

    French - France
    Interesting thread - at least, even without a clear definition of the "speed" of speech, it's nice to know what languages are perceived as fast.

    I remember hearing people say that Spanish and Italian were very fast-paced languages, and I even thought they were much faster than French ... until one day I realised that the way I spoke French (or the way people spoke around me) was rather fast too, and that maybe there wasn't such a difference in speed between those languages.

    My guess is that every language that one does not speak fluently (or is struggling to learn) is seen as fast. At least, too fast :p

    I like Beobachter suggestion of syllables per second measures. Of course that shouldn't be the only thing to take into account, I doubt it's possible to measure a language with a single value (the number of "ideas" could indeed be another good thing to measure).
  35. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    This certainly is a valid point.

    As my native language is German and as I read quite a lot in English I know that German translations of English novels have significantly more words and syllables than the English original: a novel (given that approximately the same or a similar font is used, and that size of font and pages are similar) which has 300 pages in English could have 350 or 400 pages in German.
    So there is no doubt I'd say that in English you do need significantly less syllables than in German to express the very same meaning.

    However, when it comes to the speed of talking what is most salient still is (absolute) syllable length plus number of syllables uttered in a timespan, and both are not the same:
    - syllable length in absolute terms is longer when you speak slower, but it is also longer if a language allows for consonant clusters and diphtongs: for example German has plenty of consonant clusters and diphtongs, dialects are even richer in diphtongs than standard language: absolute syllable length has to be quite long and if they are pronounced really fast (which we do occasionally ;-) those languages 'sound' as if they were pronounced 'incredibly fast' by people who aren't accustomed to consonant clusters and diphtongs;
    - on the other hand, the number of syllables uttered in a timespan also is quite important: Italian only allows for rather simple syllable types, some some Italian dialects are even more extreme than standard language and mainly have CV and V syllables; thus, Italian has quite short syllables from an 'absolute' point of view which however also allows for a very fast staccato rhythm of consecutive syllables: thus, native speakers of languages like German which have plenty of clusters and diphtongs may perceive Italian as bein pronounced 'extremely fast'.

    So a great deal depends on your native language, as well as syllable length and syllable structure in both your native language and the foreign language.

    Even so, I guess one could suggest to 'measure' the 'natural' length of a syllable depending on syllable structure and mark a deviation from this natural length as either 'fast' or 'slow' speech.
    I do not know if any (serious) studies in this field have been done yet - but this one on Cantonese syllable length suggest that there might exist a comparative study as well.

    From personal experience I am sure that significant differencies between individual languages and dialects indeed exist; and I am sure that even within the German speaking area there are significant regional speech speedness patterns, from personal hearing experience.

    Of course such things always are difficult to measure experimentally because there are a great many idiosyncrasis which must not influence results; however I am rather sure that for example Mühlviertel dialect speakers speak significantly quicker than Eastern and Southeastern Austrian dialect speakers - Burgenland and Styrian dialect speakers talk longer because of their diphtong patterns and different prosody, (Eastern) Lower Austrian and Viennese dialect speakers do not have those Styrian/BGLD diphtongs but also a significant (but again different) prosody which seems to be the reason for slower speech.

    This however, as said, is only my personal experience and not measured experimentally. :)
  36. jana.bo99

    jana.bo99 Senior Member

    Cro, Slo
    Hi Sokol,

    I have looked length of German and English words: many German words (the same meaning as in English) are longer than English. That is reason, that there are more pages in German than in English.
    Sometimes makes me angry that one word is so long (it means that has many letters).

    Very simple example:

    German: Auf Wiedersehen! (13)
    English: Good bye! (7)

    And there are more such a words.
  37. raptor

    raptor Senior Member

    BC, Canada
    Canada, English
    Since we're simply speaking of spoken language, I'd like to say that the closer a language is to ogliosynthetic it is (while maintaining a large basic corpus for derivation), the quicker it should be to speak.

    Are we considering created languages, like Toki Pona, Lojban, or Esperanto? Depending on the context, certain words could be very much simpler in form and thus easier/quicker to pronounce.

    I also agree that the best way to quantify this speed would be 'the average number of syllables spoken per minute in normal circumstances (or an average of all circumstances), by native speakers.'

    However, we could also consider 'the time it takes a native speaker to pronounce certain provided sentences' (translated for each language being considered - however here, the possible languages would have to include information encoded in the sentence such as gender, person, voice, etc, and include examples where each language is most 'efficient*' so as to be unbiased.

    *Efficient would be the test of this excercise, as opposed to the first 'rate of speech' one; amount of information encoded within the sentence per sentence (morpheme density?).

    If I had to guess though, I'd say a language with a strict CV(C) structure (non-tonal though), would likely be much more easily spoken and understood at high rates of speech. Features that may slow this down would include distinction of gemination, maybe also aspiration, rounding, and other differences in articulation. Probably the simplest way to get around these would be a small sound inventory, which would however hike up the average length of each word (unless tonal, which I think would be more difficult to understand in very fast speech).

    My 2¢ :D

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