Verbal Speed of Language - What is the fastest language?

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

  1. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

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    This thread has mainly been about which language conveys verbal information faster based on syllable count. Does anyone know which language conveys information fastest in written form? It seems the Eastern languages may hold an advantage here as their words and sometimes whole sentences can be condensed into single characters or pictographs.

    Maybe there should be a new thread about this or maybe there already is one? Apologies if so

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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Same here.

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    Well a nasal especially, because it doesn't interrupt the air flow at all. Same for the American English gargled R, and probably the Parisian French, Carioca Portuguese or northern German (plus Dutch and Scandinavian) version as well. Second best would be a voiced fricative like Z, V, ZH, soft TH.

    The flapped R of Spanish, Japanese and most languages is very quick, so it probably falls in the same category. And of course the American intervocalic T/D is really a flapped R.

    As for voiced vs. voiceless consonants... just sitting here making weird noises (and convincing my coworkers that I really am nuts) I'd have to agree that a voiced consonant takes less time than a voiceless one. But the difference is much more pronounced with stops (B D G vs. P T K), than with affricates (J vs. CH), than with fricatives (V Z vs. F S).

    The only consonant that can end a Japanese syllable is N. And they're so obstinate about their own model of the language's phonetics that they classify -N as a syllable, which has its own kana.

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    No: YA YO YU and WA have their own kana. AI and EI are common, although they're transcribed as two syllables.

    Japanese phonetics are probably the easiest for Chinese to master. Japanese find Mandarin phonetics easier than most other languages, but they have trouble with the L, the retroflex R (which stymies everyone except the Czechs because they have it too) and the triphthongs.

    Sure. I have no idea which language they consider the most difficult phonetically. Of the ones I know anything about, I'd nominate the most unreformed Slavic languages like Russian and Czech, with their palatal-vs-non-palatal consonants and their mile-long consonant clusters.

    Japanese is way ahead, allowing only N as a closing consonant. Spanish allows D (which is a voiced fricative), J (a voiceless fricative which occurs in exactly one word, reloj="clock"), L, N, R, S and Z (a hard TH in Iberian Spanish but equivalent to S in the New World).

    Perhaps, but I've spoken to this before. Beijing Mandarin is the national standard, but there are several other dialects of Mandarin that are spoken by tens of millions of people. (And the differences are often in the tones: Sichuan has six instead of four.) By keeping the speed moderated, it allows them to understand each other with only a little practice.

    Furthermore, even before the Communist takeover, Mandarin was the country's official language, yet hundreds of millions of people spoke other languages such as Cantonese and Shanghai--which we Westerners used to call "dialects" but they aren't even close to mutually comprehensible. Scholars and businessmen had to learn Mandarin as a second language (often with accents so atrocious that even I can identify them), and the nation got used to the fact that the Chinese could all understand each other pretty well if they would just throttle the speed down a little.

    BTW, "Mandarin" is capitalized when used as the name of the language.

    As I noted above, there are other considerations that bear on this issue. Something I notice even here in the USA is that Chinese communities are very noisy. Having grown up in the spooky-quiet Arizona desert, they drive me nuts! (Well actually I didn't grow up, but that's a topic for another discussion.

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    ) It can't hurt to speak a little more slowly if you want to be understood above the hubbub.
     
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    A few years ago I saw a test report in which the Chinese were able to read and absorb their transcription of an article in Chinese faster than any of the other participants in their own languages.

    Actually Chinese is the only language which still uses logograms exclusively.

    A pictogram is a drawing, often stylized, of an object or situation. It can typically be interpreted in many different languages, and it often requires more than one word to express.

    A pictogram is a specific, simple type of ideogram. Ideograms in general represent more complex ideas. For example, an arrow bending to the left, superimposed with a red circle with a northwest-to-southeast diagonal line through it, conveys the driving instruction, "Don't make a left turn here!" Again, pictograms transcend language differences, and the world already has a rather large lexicon of universally understood pictograms, including "no left turn."

    The Chinese writing system uses logograms. A logogram represents a word or a morpheme (the smallest unit of meaning, such as un-, tele-, -ed, or -able). The most well-known logograms are Chinese han zi (better known to us in the Japanese pronunciation kanji) and Egyptian hieroglyphics. In both cases their origin in ancient pictograms is easily seen, if not easily traced.

    Back on topic, the Japanese use a hybrid system of 2,000 kanji (an educated Chinese knows 5,000) plus two syllabaries. A syllabary is a set of symbols, each of which represents an entire syllable rather than one phoneme. They come in handy in languages like Japanese, in which every syllable has a vowel and zero or one consonant. The hiragana syllabary is for Japanese morphemes. Whereas katakana is used for transcribing foreign words (very awkwardly: "McDonald's" comes out ma ku do na ru do), and also for abbreviations, e.g., Nissan for Nippon Sangyo, "Japan Industries."

    Note: The reason the Japanese can use Chinese logograms is that Japan was a cultural colony of China for many centuries. The Chinese monks brought Buddhism, Iron Age technology, an immense volume of literature, and the symbols in which it was written. For a long time, educated Japanese people wrote and read only Chinese. As their language absorbed thousands of Chinese words, they began to write in Japanese syntax, and eventually invented the kana symbols for the grammatical inflections that are totally absent in Chinese. The Koreans did the same thing for the same reason, but eventually they developed a true phonetic alphabet, although they spell their words in squares rather than along a straight line. Today in South Korea Chinese characters are used almost exclusively in proper names, and in North Korea they are completely forbidden.
     
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    If the suspicion that a lack of tense and number and the like has a downside is correct, the content of "the article" is going to make a critical difference in such a study.

    One can easily imagine technical reports, newspaper articles, and similar writing would read faster in a language without structural complexity, for the same reason outlines read faster than such articles in English. Other kinds of writing, one wonders.
     
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    As I've clarified before, the failure of Chinese to express tense, number, gender, etc. in grammatical inflections does not mean that the language cannot express these things. They just don't bother to do it when it's unimportant (my dog IS a Lhasa Apso), obvious (Abe Lincoln WAS our President), or inapplicable (bosons ARE elementary particles.) It's easy enough to say "My two dog love to play with me," "Tomorrow I read this book," or "a female server come to take your order."

    English does not have grammatical inflections for the case of nouns, and it doesn't ever seem to slow us down or impair comprehension, even though Germans, Greeks and Russians can't imagine surviving in such linguistic chaos.
     
  9. Markus Hanke Registered Senior Member

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    I'd nominate the Khoisan languages of southern Africa, in particular !Amkoe. Good luck trying to learn that ! It does sound funny though...unfortunately, you'd be very hard pressed trying to track down any native speakers. The language is dying.
     
  10. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    I can make a ! sound with ease, I would say a trill R is harder then a click sound (I can do a trill R easily as well but I pretty sure that because of my semi-Hispanic up-bring)!
     
  11. Markus Hanke Registered Senior Member

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    Really ? I'm completely unable to make those click sounds ( especially since they are coupled with tones ! ), whereas the trill-R is no problem for me.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Most Americans can produce the flapped R of British English, Spanish, Japanese, and most of the world's languages--for the very good reason that this is exactly how we pronounce an intervocalic T or D in American English. The way we pronounce "Betty" sounds like "berry" to an Englishman. "Liter" and "leader" are homophones to us.

    And of course if you can do the flap it's fairly easy to simply blow harder and extend it into a trill.

    Now if you want a really difficult R, try the flapped retroflex Ř of Czech! (Retroflap?

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