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PhiNotPi's avatar

What languages / nationalities have the fastest speakers?

Asked by PhiNotPi (11673 points ) June 10th, 2012

Whenever I hear people speak in another language, it appears to me that they are talking incredibly fast. I don’t know why it sounds that way, but it is probably due to the fact that I cannot tell where the words begin or end, and not becuase they are actually talking faster. This made me wonder, however, if some nationalities or languages do actually have faster or slower speakers.

The best metric for talking speed across languages is neither syllables per minute nor words per minute, but the amount of time that it takes to convey the same information. A really precise measurement is going to be hard, but those Flutherite who have had experience in foreign cultures can probably make a good judgement.

I realize that there can be variation inside of single countries, so you can specify any group of people.

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12 Answers

MilkyWay's avatar

I’m from England, and as you mentioned, there are many variations over here just in English. A typical person with a “brummie” accent, a person from birmingham, will talk a lot faster than your average londoner.
I also speak urdu/hindi and understand punjabi. Out of the three of them, urdu is the slowest, then hindi, and then punjabi.
I think the manner in which a language is spoken also very much depends on the calibre of the command a person has over the language. For example. a person from South London will sound faster than a person from Oxford or Cambridge, as they will take certain “shortcuts” when talking.

tups's avatar

Spanish speakers talks faster than English speakers. Or so I’ve been told.

Sunny2's avatar

My personal experience is that English speakers in India speak the fastest. I can’t begin to make my lips and tongue go that fast. I’ll be interested in knowing what the facts are.

Trillian's avatar

I recently saw a study about this very ting. The conclusion was that all languages transmit information at about the same rate.

Fyrius's avatar

Here’s a semi-relevant thought: it’s probably not so much that foreign language talk seems faster than it really is, but rather that talk in a language you’re fluent in seems slower than it actually is. If you know all the words you don’t even need to hear every syllable.

In my language there are words and phrases like the three-syllable “natuurlijk” that’s colloquially pronounced as the single syllable “tuuk”, or the five syllable phrase “in ieder geval” that are pronounced as the three syllables “innieval.” I’ve also heard French “il n’y a pas” (4 syllables) pronounced as “ya pas” (2). I’ll bet that happens everywhere and native speakers don’t even notice.

Dutchess_III's avatar

To non-natives, other languages always sound rapid paced. Generally, we don’t pause between words, and if you don’t know what is being said it just sounds like one long, long word.

JLeslie's avatar

In my experience fast talkers are fast in every language they speak. I had a woman from Nicaragua who spoke English very fast, like a New Yorker, but her Spanish was very fast too. I think I am the same pace in both languages and so is my husband. Spanish probably seems faster than English to a non speaker because so many of the words in Spanish end in vowels and the words join together more than listening to German or English or other very choppy strongly enunciated languages.

zensky's avatar

Whatever Speedy Gonzales speaks.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

The speed of a person’s speech is found in all languages. It is the individual’s communication style that sets the pace.

mattbrowne's avatar

Great question. I found this

“A recently published study in the journal Language presented evidence that Spanish ranks as the world’s second fastest commonly spoken language, just behind Japanese. Linguistics researchers from the University of Lyon in France discovered that native speakers of Spanish talk faster than speakers of languages such as English, German or Mandarin Chinese; however, the trade-off lies in that Spanish speakers transmit less information per second as compared with these languages.”

http://transpanish.biz/translation_blog/spanish-ranks-as-world%E2%80%99s-second-fastest-language/

Fyrius's avatar

Oh, another thing.
I remember the following example from college. I can’t properly credit who came up with it, but it wasn’t me.
In Japanese, you get sentences like “kakashi to risu”. All simple syllables, easy to pronounce quickly.
In English, you can get sentences like (I quote) “Smith’s strength crushed twelve strong trucks.” Much denser syllables, with way more phonemes each – five or six, instead of two – making it more difficult to pronounce that quickly.
So then which one is faster depends on whether you count the average number of syllables or phonemes per second.

Or you could count information per second, I suppose. That does sound like a better idea.

iluvsoccer7's avatar

I really don’t think anyone speaks “fast”
it just seems fast to you because you don’t know the language. I speak Arabic and when I spoke it to my friend at school, everyone thought we were speaking really fast but we weren’t. Also when I hear people speaking Hindi I think they are talking fast but its just that I don’t know what they’re saying.

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