Have you ever wondered why some languages sound faster than others? Researchers at the Universite de Lyon may have stumbled on the answer. They analysed several different languages to determine how much information each one was able to stuff into a single syllable. Then, they had speakers of several different languages read the same texts out loud. Each text had been translated so that the participants were all reading in their native languages. Eight languages were studied: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish and Vietnamese.
After listening to the recordings, the researchers used them to figure out how many syllables were spoken per second for each language. According to a write-up of the study published in Time, that led to an “a-ha” moment of sorts:
“A trade-off is operating between a syllable-based average information density and the rate of transmission of syllables. A dense language will make use of fewer speech chunks than a sparser language for a given amount of semantic information.”