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Mandarin’s slow, but speaks volumes

April 20, 2012

Spanish Is Faster Than English, But Mandarin Is Slow

Some languages sound faster than others, but most convey information at the same rate

By Anne Pycha  | April 15, 2012 | 12

“Speakers of some languages seem to rattle away at high speed like machine-guns, while other languages sound rather slow and plodding,” wrote linguist Peter Roach in 1998. A few months ago re­searchers systematically quantified Roach’s observation and offered a sur­prising explanation. Last year, in an issue of the journal Language, François Pel­legrino and his colleagues at the Univer­sity of Lyon in France published their analysis of the speech of 59 people read­ing the same 20 texts aloud in seven languages. They found Japanese and Spanish, often described as “fast lan­guages,” clocked the greatest number of syllables per second. The “slowest” language in the set was Mandarin, followed closely by German.

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