Something that has always struck me about Spanish speakers is that they talk so fast in their native language. I’ll normally catch the beginning of a sentence (or at least the first word!), but the rest of it is lost as they talk at what seems like a million miles per second.
I’m not alone in thinking this. An interesting study just published in the journal Language has attempted to answer the question of why some languages sound faster than others. Researchers from the Universite de Lyon recruited native speakers of seven common languages – English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish – and one uncommon one, Vietnamese. The speakers were recorded reading different texts, and the recordings used to analyse language.
What they found was that some languages have a higher “information density” than others. English has a high information density and is spoken at an average rate. Spanish has a low density so is spoken much faster (about a syllable per second). Japanese is even faster. The differences mean that in the same period of time, each language will convey around the same amount of information.
“A tradeoff is operating between a syllable-based average information density and the rate of transmission of syllables,” the researchers wrote. “A dense language will make use of fewer speech chunks than a sparser language for a given amount of semantic information.” In other words, your ears aren’t deceiving you: Spaniards really do sprint and Chinese really do stroll, but they will tell you the same story in the same span of time. (Source: Time.com)
The study is fascinating, but it doesn’t make spoken Spanish any easier for me to decipher! Perhaps I should try some Spanish classes in Dallas to help me out.