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The Speed of Language


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Ever wondered why some languages sound like they're spoken much faster than others? Yet, in dubbed movies the words seemingly fit the actors' mouth movement. That's what researchers at Universite de Lyon wanted to explain when they set out to research one phenomenon: the speed of language. This infographics shows how they did it, and what they found.

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The Speed of Language

  1. 1. Everyvolunteerrecordedthe followingphrasein his orherlanguage:Everyvolunteerrecordedthe followingphrasein his orherlanguage:LANGUAGEthe speed ofEver wondered why some languages sound like they’re spoken much faster than others?Japanese sounds faster than German, Spanish certainly sounds faster than English.Yet, if you watch a dubbed foreign movie, the translated dialogue matches with the originalexactly—even seemingly to the actors’ mouth movement.WHEN THEY SET OUT TO COMPLETE A STUDY ONTHE SPEED OF LANGUAGE.WHAT’S UP WITH THAT?were wondering,That’s pretty much what threeresearchers atUNIVERSITEDELYONThey gathered upwith an overall duration of:volunteersrecordingsEach of whomspoke one ofAnd madelanguages:29WOMEN30MEN150MINUTESE N G L I S HF R E N C HG E R M A NI T A L I A NJAPANESEMANDARINS PA N I S HThe researchers counted all the syllables ineach of the recordings and analyzed howmuch meaning each syllable conveyed—called the "density" of a syllable, and,it turns out:that i wandered downthe garden for a breathof fresh air.Last night I openedthe front door to letthe cat out.ITWASSUCHABEAUTIFULEVENINGwhile i was trying to forcethe door open!THEN I HEARD A CLICK AS THE DOOR CLOSED BEHIND ME.I REALIZED I’D LOCKED MYSELF OUT.TOCAPITALL,IWASARRESTEDWHAT DID THEY FIND?SOYou can compare the speed of the languages:is indeed faster than7.82syllables/secSPANISH6.19syllables/secENGLISH5.18syllables/secCHINESE take it easy...The“outspeak” us all.7.84syllables/secJAPANESEWhile thetake a look at theirinformation density**Vietnamese is set as the base density of 1.and it turns out...0.63SPANISH0.91ENGLISH0.94CHINESE0.49JAPANESE(least dense)(most dense)AND MORE DENSE LANGUAGESSOUNDL E S S D E N S EL A N G U A G E SS O U N DINOTHERWORDSwe may speak languagesthat sound vastly different,BUT IN THE ENDwe’re all saying the same thing.Source:,8599,2091477,00.html