Verbal Speed of Language - What is the fastest language?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by ElectricFetus, Sep 8, 2012.

  1. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    English verse Mandrin

    As brought up on another thread is the age old argument of which language is "superior", English or Mandarin? Of course this argument seems to come up because people can't help but notice the rising superpower of china (forget India!) and that it must "inevitably" clash with the present world dominating superpower, the USA, which speaks English (of course). Let this thread be focus on trying to actually determine which language is in fact superior, and not whom country will rule over who other country.

    First lets try to define superiority. A hypothesis (stated here by Fraggle no less) basically goes that a language with fewer syllables can convey information faster, is therefore a more efficient spoken language. Evidence does support that Mandarin has fewer syllables than English:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fast-talkers

    ""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 re*searchers systematically quantified Roach’s observation and offered a sur*prising explanation. Last year, in an issue of the journal Language, François Pel*legrino and his colleagues at the Univer*sity of Lyon in France published their analysis of the speech of 59 people read*ing the same 20 texts aloud in seven languages. They found Japanese and Spanish, often described as “fast lan*guages,” clocked the greatest number of syllables per second. The “slowest” language in the set was Mandarin, followed closely by German."

    There research determine that when speaking normally and conveying information at the same rate English speakers spoke on average 6.19 syllables per second verse only 5.18 sy/sec for Mandarin. So then Mandarin must be a more efficient language then English (it should be noted that Vietnamese they found was the most information dense language per syllable with 11 vowels, 25 consonants, 6 tones, diphthongs, triphthongs, and complex syllables such as 'ccvvvcc' being possible, it should be!)... making certain assumptions of course. This hypothesis has a serious flaw though, for Mandarin to be superior it must be able to convey more information in less time, not just in less syllables, the hypothesis assumes that all syllables are the taking the same amount of time to say, this is erroneous.

    English (and german more so) have complex syllables, example "grouts","brands" and "brains" are all single syllables but consist of multiple conjoin consonants with one center vowel or diphthong: all of these words have a complex 'ccvcc' or ccvvcc format. In contrast "fast" spoken languages like Spanish and Japanese are made up usually or always of simple open syllables often or completely consisting of single vowel nucleus, or 'cv' like "mo","la","ze",etc. Now try it with me here: say "brands" over and over as fast as you can, the faster you go the more likely you start losing enunciation, skipping consonants, losing the diphthong, and the word becomes unintelligible. Now say "ma" as fast as you can, you might notices you can say this much faster than "brands", even though they are both single syllables, you can probably even say "mado" (two syllables) as fast as you can say "brands". "Fast" languages are thus not necessarily inefficient: "fast" languages can more easily produce more syllables in a given amount of time than "slow" languages, thus "fast" languages can be spoken faster than "slow" languages compensating for their low data density per syllable. One can argue about which came first: the speed capable syllables or low data density per syllable. I'm not sure how tone equates into speed, trying to enunciate tone accurately enough to be heard correctly may also slow the rate of speech.

    "The upshot is that Spanish and Mandarin actually convey information to listeners at about the same rate. The correlation between speech rate and information density held for five out of seven of the lan*guages studied, and the researchers conjectured that, despite the diversity of languages in the world, over time they all deliver a constant rate of information, possibly tuned to the human perceptual system."
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2012
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Mandarin has very simple syllables. Each one may start with one consonant, which may be followed by one semivowel, followed by a mandatory vowel, and may end with N, NG or a semivowel. I have simplified the rule for brevity but the exceptions do not have a larger number of phonemes; the maximum is four per morpheme. I suppose this would be charted [c]v[s/c]. There are only 400 possible syllables, multiplied by four because of the tones.

    Indeed. Mandarin can be spoken quickly with no loss of precision, but it seldom is.

    Mandarin only has four tones: high, low, rising, falling. These can be enunciated pretty clearly without slowing the speaker down. Furthermore, the second (and third, fourth, etc.) morpheme in a compound can almost always be pronounced with a neutral tone without risking ambiguity, in effect putting stress on the first syllable, helping to parse the sentence and making it possible to say the non-initial syllables a little faster if desired.

    My point was that each language evolves a way to communicate at roughly the same rate of information transfer, but the slower ones move the syllables out of our mouths and into our ears more slowly. This allows the speaker to devote a little more thought to each one, and the listener to identify and interpret them. This is especially important in a lingua franca like English which is used by many people for whom it is a foreign language. As I said in the other thread, I can read Spanish reasonably well, but I can't follow a spoken conversation. I find spoken Mandarin much easier to follow. Frankly even though my vocabulary is much smaller, I'd say I can understand it almost as well as Spanish.

    I don't remember if they included Italian in that study, but I'll bet that it's even faster than Spanish. Other linguists have made that assertion, and it seems to me that it has slightly more syllables. Modern Italian is almost a constructed language, forged from the various languages of the region before Italy became a nation, and it has a few features that look to me suspiciously Esperanto-like. Esperanto probably has a higher syllable count than any natural language!
     
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  5. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    A simple syllable (and most common type in the world) is the open syllable 'cv'. Closed syllables 'cvc' are more complex and longer to say. Try it with me say "mad" as fast as you can verse "ma" or 'mada' as fast as you can. Open syllables you can glide to the next syllable without having to stop your breath. Having to repetitively stop and start air out of my lungs to say closed syllables rapidly slows speech down (as well as tires me more quickly). Using audacity to record and analyses my own speech, I said syllables as rapidly as a could in strings without screwing them up, then divided the time of the string by how many repetitions I did. I've determined I can say "mad" clearly and consistently at every 0.18 sec (6.29 sec / 35), any faster and the "d" is overrun and it starts to sound like "man" or "mam". I can say 'ma' once every 0.14 sec (6.34 sec / 44) and I can say 'mada' once every 0.2 sec (5.5 sec / 27), any faster and it skips consonants and it sounds like an interrupting hummed string of "a". Therefor via experimental evidence (though being only my own) complex syllables can't be said as quickly as simple ones, therefor languages with which have syllables as complex as 'cvc' which by your own admission include mandarin (which you claim even has more complex 'cvvc' as well) can not evidently be spoken as fast as languages with simpler syllables. Do you have any evidence that mandarin can be said at the maximum syllabic rate of that say a Japanese or Spanish speaker could do and still be understandable? Some kind of speed talking competition perhaps?

    Can you prove that? A study perhaps, an experiment of your own at least? I don't think I can accurately experiment that with my own voice on tone alterations, I tried "ma'ma," high and low tone oscillation and got 0.17 sec only slightly slower than monotone "ma", and 0.19 sec for "mad'mad," again slightly slower than "mad". I would have to do more replicates in order to prove this statistically.

    So your saying that complex syllables because they are slower to say allow more time to compute them and thus are more understandable? A logical argument, but do you have any evidence? Slow languages like mandarin or German have either very complex syllables with multiple conjoin consonants (german) or tones (mandarin), could this not provide a problem in learning how to hear the tone shifts or the difference between multiple conjoined consonants. Let alone it could be a problem in learning to speak it, I herd many bantu speakers have difficulty with pronouncing conjoined consonants. Vietnamese is more information dense than either German or mandarin, and it has a hellish number of vowels, consonants and tones, having to learn to hear the difference between them all is probably really hard (for the adult brain), based on my own research for example with the r and l problem with languages that have neither but a Alveolar flap 'r' instead, I personally had difficulty in peace corps teaching icibemba speakers to say and hear the difference between r and l (unless I used a trilled r instead of r).

    They included Italian, no mention if it was faster though they say Japanese came first as fastest and Spanish second so I guess that means Italian was slower than Spanish. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110901093726.htm
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2012
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Hawaiian has nothing but open syllables. It's been postulated that since the ancient Hawaiians spent a significant portion of their life shouting at each other from boats on the open sea, their phonemes had to be much more easily identifiable than ours. As a result they have only vowels, the consonants HKLMNP and glottal stop, and W, which are easy to distinguish over background noise.

    This is in fact how phonetic changes occur. In casual speech, a word like "administration" comes out pretty much like "amministration."

    Even without the juxtaposed consonants we subtly create new allophones of our phonemes to speed up speech. In American English, "liter" and "leader" are homophones because in both the intervocalic consonant has been changed to a flap: the sound of R in many other languages. We can blast through those syllables that way.

    But I noted that the final consonant of a Mandarin syllable can only be N or NG. This isn't as big an impediment to speed as an F, much less a CH.

    Japanese and Spanish are not comparable. Japanese syllables are slightly simpler than Chinese: optional consonant, optional semivowel, mandatory vowel, optional N. Spanish syllables can be ccsvsc. Japanese can be spoken much more quickly than Spanish, although it is usually not.

    I think you need a few year's practice before you can approach the speed of a person who was raised in an environment where Chinese was spoken. It's well-known that adults have great difficulty mastering the hitherto-unknown sounds of foreign languages. The musculature in your speech organs is customized for efficiency in your native language. Once you're beyond mid-adolescence it is extremely difficult to move those already-shaped muscles and other tissues in ways that they were (literally) not designed for. This is the reason that children should be taught foreign languages when they are young and their tissues are still malleable.

    I don't know how old you are but I'm sure you're older than 14, so you'll never be able to say ma1-ma3 (using the standard markers for high and low tone) as fast as a native Chinese speaker. I was about 26 when I studied Chinese so I have the same handicap. I may have a slight edge because I've always been a singer. My vocal organs have been shaped and trained to change pitch more quickly and precisely than the average person. Still, I can't make the transition as fast as a Chinese.

    Nonetheless, this is not relevant. They don't even try to speak that quickly. The speed of my Mandarin speech is fairly close to that of a native. In Spanish, on the other hand, I'm pegged as a gabacho halfway through my first sentence because it comes out so slow. Spanish doesn't have tones but it has a wealth of sound combinations and juxtapositions that my English-fitted vocal organs have to slow down to get right.

    No. I'm saying that syllables in any language, whether simple or complex, are more understandable when spoken slowly. Chinese has simpler syllables than English yet they are spoken more slowly so they have an advantage. And of course the reason they can be spoken more slowly is that they have spent thousands of years carefully (although unconsciously) streamlining their grammar and syntax to pack more meaning into fewer syllables. In fact, to pack more meaning into fewer phonemes, period.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2012
  8. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Somewhere back in the past Poetry magazine published a stopwatch study of poetry declaimed in various languages, and found no significant difference in the amount of time spent on a line of lyric poetry in any language measured.

    Mandarin, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Finnish, Arabic, were among the dozen or more languages I remember being timed.

    From the pov of communication of meanings well suited to them, then, all languages seem to go at about the same intrinsic speed. The question of which languages encompass easily, or are well adapted to, the widest and deepest range of meanings (so as to be able to express them easily, quickly, and efficiently) is a different one. If, for example, there are languages better able to handle translations of lyric poetry - producing standard timing lyric poetry lines in translations of the widest linguistic range of lyric poetry - I don't know what they are, but I suspect they are in the midrange of linguistic evolution - not burdened with great complexities of tenses and genders and inflexions and such, but capable of including contextual information in with the basic syllables.
     
  9. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

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    I don't think the word 'superior' is appropriate and should be replaced simply with information rate. Who's to say a slower rate of information isn't 'superior'? Or rate has no effect at all.

    I have personally always though English (or as we like to say 'American'

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    ) is an excellent language to conceive of new ideas in because it's so screwed up. It has all sorts of exceptions to the rule and I'd argue this is a good thing because thinking outside the box is a good way to generate a new idea - and THIS is the key to being a superior language, innovation. There's no point have a very fast language that's no able to conceive of new ideas very easily. Japanese regularly use four written alphabets; kanji, hiragana, katagana and romanji. With all these weird ways to combine and express one's self, it's highly likely an new thought will pop up and lead to innovation.

    It's not even possible to think without a language to think in.
     
  10. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    We have several race cars in a race, the fastest car wins the race, oh but we can't say that car is "superior"? Look there going to be a superior and inferior on any dimension of critic, yes these ranks might not carry over or even invert from one dimension to the next, but I still need to define them as such!

    I've never agreed with Sapir-Whorf: if a language lacks words for a concept or thought someone will just make up the words, fuck where do you think the words came from to begin with? There was a time when hominids did not even have words for things, our ancestors had to think first then put those thoughts to sounds and signs. Take the case of Nicaraguan Sign Language a language created by deaf children, who had no language before, certainly they were thinking first, and then gave thought a sign or word, then developed upon it.

    Many animals have demonstrate rather complex thinking without having any language to speak of.
     
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I have often noted that most people form most of their thoughts in words. However, there are exceptions. Sculptors, musicians, etc. I'm a musician and I have long periods of non-verbal thinking. For full-time career musicians those periods are even longer and more frequent.
     
  12. Promo Registered Senior Member

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    I’m hoping Fraggle backs me on this since he agrees with me that Sign Language is a language. That said I can sign a hell of a lot faster than people can speak the same words, also while signing this fast people can understand what is being signed. So I find it impressive that we can comprehend the letters come at us with such a fast speed and motion.
     
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Speech is not really the fastest way to communicate, but it has other advantages. We can hear speech from a much greater distance than we can see signing clearly, and we don't have to be more-or-less directly in front of the speaker. Also, we can use our eyes for another purpose, like cooking or driving, rather than watching the signer.

    As we continue to separate ourselves from the natural world, there are fewer ambient sounds that require our attention. This leaves our hearing free to devote to communication.

    Most educated people can read considerably faster than most people can speak, but only a trained court reporter with a special data entry device can write that fast.

    The various styles of shorthand can keep up with speech, but they rely on familiarity with context. A stenographer in a canned food company would need time to adapt to a clothing warehouse.
     
  14. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    So none of us here side with Sapir-Whorf then? I at least am inclined beleive that neither Sapir-Whorf or its inverse are mutually exlusive, language could effect thought and thought language, in diffrent circumstances. Certainly the ability to convert thought into communcatable forms or to be able to think in commincatable forms has had incredible consquences.

    But as the study I cited for this thread shows languages have naturally evolved convergently to match up with the optimal rate at which the average human brain can express thought. Now yes perhaps signing, typing or even neural transcievers could out run vocal communcation, but a language would have to be developed or evolved to match the transmission rate of that system such that thoughts can be commincated with an acceptable degree of accuracy and detial which of course is limited to the processing speed and power of the minds themselves. Computers for example commincate with each other far FAR faster then humans and with a level of fidelity and detail humans could never match or have the patients to ever express, Imagine for example that I'm decribing a picture to you I might say "its a picture of a women with her dog sitting on a coach" verbally, a computer can tell another computer that same picture but express it via Ethernet protocol as a bitmap of 1024x1024 24 bit pixels in a fraction of a second!
     
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    All right, I finally looked up Sapir-Whorf.

    Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. Remember the old maxim, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Your language is that hammer, and your thoughts are that nail.

    I have often opined that our thoughts are shaped by our language, and that this is one of the many advantages of being bi- (or multi-) lingual. You can reality-test the thoughts you form in one language against the paradigms of another language. I often do that, even though I'm not really close to fluent in any other language.

    I form a thought in English, and then just for fun re-state it in Mandarin. I immediately ask myself, "Why did I bother specifying that the person who is performing this action is a man and not a woman?" Chinese has no grammatical gender; you have to go out of your way to say "male human" or "female human."

    "Why did I bother specifying that it was more than one dog ("dogs") eating only one fish (a fish)?" Chinese has no grammatical number; you have to go out of your way to say "one dog/many dog" or "one fish/many fish."

    "Why did I bother specifying that I went to the library in the past?" Chinese has no grammatical tense; you have to go out of your way to say "go to library yesterday/ tomorrow/ today."

    These things aren't as important to the Chinese as they are to us. Think in Chinese and you begin to wonder why they're so important to us.

    I'm amused by the cavalier Chinese attitude toward time. This is a people who have had a continuous, uninterrupted civilization for three thousand years! Sure, they've been conquered, but they simply absorb their conquerors and carry on like nothing happened--whether they're Mongols or Marxists.

    Well sure. Duh? Languages always evolve to keep up with the associated culture, and culture and thought patterns reflect each other.

    I've pointed out before that there are a zillion times as many possible relationships between two things in the Post-Industrial Era than there were in the Stone Age, when our prepositions were created. We're stuck with about thirty prepositions to describe all possible relationships, and unlike nouns, verbs and adjectives, we have no mechanism for inventing new prepositions.

    So instead we've invented an entire new construction to express more complicated relationships: the noun-adjective compound. User-friendly software, fuel-efficient engines, labor-intensive projects, carbon-neutral processes... This is a living paradigm and we're free to add to it, or even to invent a compound and just use it once.
     
  16. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    I have worked many blue collar jobs, and if the guys working with me were limited in their thinking to what they could express in words there wouldn't have been much getting done.

    That most people do most of their thinking in words is a fanciful notion possible only for those who deal very little with complicated physical realities. It crosses my mind that this notion may be a source of the perception that physical work - laying block, say - does not require mental engagement or activity. I can tell you for sure that it is possible to be too stupid to safely move pianos for a living - and the phenomenon is not that uncommon.

    People whose thought is gender neutral often just slide into the plural "they" in English, without even noticing - that the grammar police haven't caught up yet is not critical.

    Otherwise, having to go out of one's way to express a thought seems unfortunate - but no doubt there are compensations.
     
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Like the universally reviled but universally mandated "he or she"?

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  18. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    How about this to a diagram to language and the mind: We have a thought -> brain automatically translate thought into a string of words (after learning a language of course)-> word-thoughts may be manipulated as within the confines of the language sometimes, sometimes not -> New thoughts are generated >>> repeat. This allows for Sapir-Whorf theory as well as accepts that it is not always or even often the case, that the underlying thoughts though some times modified by automatic mental translating into language can and do often function independent of it. Even if we did not have a word for pain or rebelling or even if the language forbid such expression we would still have such thoughts, our brains wouldautomatically try to translate these thoughts even given the limitations of language, for example in New-Speak: "Big Brother is double plus good not!" despite New-Speak being designed to try to prevent rebellious thought. In the event the language has difficulty trying to express the thought, we start changing the language to make it expressible.
     
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    That's how languages change over the century.
    • Compound words: townhouse ("rowhouse" in British English)
    • Slang: geek
    • Redefinition: server (physical component in an information system)
    • Acronyms: laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation)
    • Foreign words: veranda
    • Deliberate academic coinage from Greek and Latin roots: television (a Greek-Latin hybrid)
    • Paradigmatic coinage: micro-, nano-, pico-, femto-, atto-, zepto-, yocto- vs. mega-, giga-, tera-, peta-, exa-, zetta-, yotta-
    • Onomatopoeia: burp
    • Literary coinage: unobtainium (from the movie "Avatar")
    • Frivolity: rambunctious (I wish we had also kept "absquatulate" from the same era, a really cute word with a really cute meaning: to squat down so as to be unnoticed and sneak away with an awkward gait: my horse must have absquatulated while we were talking)
    • There are certainly other ways of inventing words that I forgot to list.
    We change our grammar too, although more slowly. We don't say "thou bringest/ye bring" anymore, just "you bring."
     
  20. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

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    That's surprising. I'd have assumed that Chinese at least had tenses. It seems extraordinarily imprecise and unattractive otherwise.
     
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    It turns out that tense is unnecessary most of the time (bonehead-obvious from context) and irrelevant much of the time ("most mammals walk on four legs"--well gee last year did they walk on their tails?). In the occasional case where it's necessary, you just add a word (or more if appropriate) for precision: Last week (xia li bai) I eat eggs. Next year (ming nian) I attend university. Today (jin tian) I work off site.

    It's the same with number: usually unnecessary, often irrelevant. Dogs like bones. Do you really need to specify how many dogs, how many bones, and when this did, is, or will happen?

    Just as in English we can construct the subjunctive or conditional mode when we need it, even though our language lost the inflection for the former many centuries ago and for the latter back in the days of Proto-Germanic (if it ever had a conditional, I'm not really sure), the Chinese have no trouble constructing the plural number or the future tense when they need it. They just don't do it with inflections.

    As your language sheds inflections, you begin to realize that they were more of a hindrance than a help. Would you really like to take your position to the extreme, defend Latin, and say Modern English is "extraordinarily imprecise and unattractive" because our verbs lack the pluperfect mode and our nouns have no vocative case? The Romans thought those inflections were indispensable. They even inflected their adjectives! "Good" had to match the noun it modified in gender, number and case.

    And while we're on the subject, I hope you understand that our verbs don't have a future tense any more than Chinese verbs do. When we feel it's necessary, we add an extra word: "shall/will." In fact most of the time we use the present progressive instead of the future tense: Tomorrow I'm going to the doctor. We specify the time exactly the same way the Chinese do: with the word "tomorrow."
     
  22. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    I don't see what is wrong with making tense optional? I been slowly working on a artificial language that does just that, it allows degrees of complexity between Pignin to complex suffixing:

    question, you go (to) place? = pwi pwa pey vwo
    question, you all going now (to) the place? = pwi mwa mio pey mie sie vwo tio
    question, you'll going now (to) the-place? = pwi mwam peims vwot
    are you'll going-now (to) the-town? = lapwi mwam peims devwot
    are you'll going now (to) the-big-city? = lapwi mwam peims davwotz
    are you'll going now to the metropolis? = lapwi mwam peims peuie dovwot
    are you'll going now over the metropolis? = lapwi mwam peims seuie dovwot
     
  23. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    Forgive the lateness for my reply but I somehow missed this post.

    As you stated before, I have come to agree. I been playing around with 10 consonant artificall language of m,p,t,k~g, reflexive d and l, v~b, trilled r, z and sh, 5 vowels i,e, Open central unrounded a,o,u, 14 "diphthongs", obligate open syllables with multiple vowel suffixing and optional syllable closing consonant suffixing. So all words end in at least 'cvv' and consist of 'cv'. So cvv is the simplest word and cvcvcvcvv is the most complex with 17.5 M possible permutations. No tones, no stress, no rhythm.

    "he is going now to town" translates to "zua pei sie mie devuo" or "zua piesm devuo" when using optional common adjectives suffixing
    "the men are going now to the town" translates to "zua tio mio pei sie mie devuo tio" or "zuamt peism devuot"
    “the men are going now” translates to “zua tio mio peiai sie mie” or “zuamt peiaism”
    “Going now, the men are” translates to “peiai sie mie zua'a tio mio” or “peiaism zua'amt”
    “to town, going now, the men” translates to “devuo'o pei sie mie zua'a tio mio” or “devuo'o peism zua'amt”

    So your saying a voiced consonant allows gliding from one syllable to another, while a voiceless does not? It makes sense... but needs to be tested.

    I disagree, both are heavy on simple open syllables, Japanese to an extreme is obligate simple syllables (find me a closed syllable Japanese word!) and lacks even diphthongs and is very different from mandarin, dare I say so more then from Spanish. Despite the fact they are not related languages, Japanese and Spanish are convergent in their evolution towards simple open syllables, Japanese most so in the strict sense, hence its fastest syllable speeds.

    No shit! I would greatly prefer a study with multiple speakers of multiple languages to determine the speed of different syllables, and consonant sequences, more importantly their learn-abilty between average of second language adults speakers, but have yet to find such a study or anything close.

    A valid assumption, but unproven. It might be "unlikely" rather then "never", I'm sure there are some people who are linguistic geniuses, not that I'm one, certainly not! Also we need to consider not just how easy it is to say but to hear and distinguish, the later may in fact be harder to learn: again Japanese speakers can be taught to say 'l' and 'r' easier then they can be taught to hear and distinguish between 'l' and 'r' spoken by another. (cite studies in another post before). In the case of mandarin, distinguishing tones not just speaking them might slow the language down: it could be that having to rapidly change between many tones is speed limited as in the the chance of the hearer making an error in tone distinction increases rapidly the faster its said. All this is hypothesis but if mandarin tones are so easy to say and hear then they would be able to speak faster and convey more pure unit of time. Again the threads primary report theorizes that language speed evolves to the max of human communication rate, explaining the difference between Japanese and German in syllable complexity, if mandarin was so easy to say and hear then why is it not spoken faster and covey more information per unit of time? Either it can't be spoken faster or the human brain can't on average compute it faster ergo it can't be heard faster.

    Irrelevant, as simple ones should be more understandable when spoken faster so languages converge on how to say more in less time (fewer syllables/phonemes is irrelevant!) up to the limits of the human vocal track to transmit and human ears and brain to hear and process. Hence languages like japanese need to be but more to the point can be spoken faster then mandarin. Also your again assuming the tone does not add to complexity, an unproven assumption.
     

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