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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

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Subject: Speaking rates
Question: Is it possible to compare the speed at which different languages are
normally spoken? If so, which languages are relatively fast and which
are slow?

Reply: The simple answer to your first question is yes. We can count, for example, the number of syllables in any given stretch of speech over time and then compare results for different languages.

The more realistic answer has to do with the word “speech”. Languages do not exist independently of their speakers/users, so counting linguistic units over time always means counting individual speech productions over time, and then averaging the results.

One additional issue is what exactly is it that we’re counting, i.e. how do we define syllables – or words, or sounds, or any other unit we choose to base our statistics on. Despite their generalised use, these words do not necessarily refer to the same thing across languages, or across language analysts.

Yet another issue relates to matters of perception. Just like what we call “languages” must be used by individuals, for measuring purposes, so speech must be perceived by individuals, too. Machines can help us here but, again, we must instruct our machines to identify what we choose to call syllables, words, or sounds.

An early account of these matters, from a cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspective, is here, ‘A Cross Cultural Study of Speech Rate’:

<a href='http://las.sagepub.com/content/7/2/120.short' target='_blank'>http://las.sagepub.com/content/7/2/120.short</a>;


Reply From: Madalena Cruz-Ferreira      click here to access email
Date: 12-Nov-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Speaking rates    Susan D Fischer     (13-Nov-2012)
  2. Re: Speaking rates    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (14-Nov-2012)

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