Language journal has published a study by three linguists at the University of Lyon, showing that certain languages are more or less equally efficient.
The study compared the efficiency of conveying information in spoken German, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, English, French, Italian, and Spanish.
Researchers took a sample group of 59 people, who each read a sample text in their native language. The recordings were then edited to remove the pauses, and syllables were tallied in order to draw conclusions regarding the density of information communicated in each language.
Japanese was found to be the fastest spoken language, with 7.84 syllables spoken per second. Mandarin Chinese was the slowest, with the average syllabic speech rate at 5.18. However, the researchers note that in ‘faster’ languages, the individual parts of words are shorter, meaning there are more syllables. They concluded that a higher rate of syllables by no means implies that content can be transmitted more quickly.
A more comprehensive study, carried out by University of Klagenfurt linguistics professor Gertraud Fenk-Oczlon in 2010, reached similar conclusions. In this case, 51 different languages were recorded, with Indian language Tegulu found to be the fastest, and Thai the slowest.
The latest study, in more detailed form, can be found here.
Eagle eyed readers may have spotted that the resident Language Trainers blogger has recently changed. I’m Emma, and I’m taking over from Wendy, who has been posting all the latest linguistics news for the past three years. Wendy has travelled all over the world and now lives in Shanghai, where she has the opportunity to practice her Mandarin skills every day. I’ve also travelled extensively, but am not multi-lingual. I am however currently (slowly) learning Latin American Spanish.
A bit about me: I’m British, and as we all know, we Brits are not well renowned for their language skills. I think this is part laziness (“hey, everyone speaks English, right?”) and part schooling (we don’t learn languages as part of the curriculum until secondary school, which is actually quite outrageous). This is, of course, a sweeping generalisation, I’m quite aware that there are some awesome British multi linguists out there.
I wasn’t brought up speaking other languages at home and also wasn’t taught the basics of my own language at school(!), however I pride myself on trying when I’m abroad. ‘Hello,’ ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way, and if you try even more, people are more willing to help you. This goes both ways – I’ve worked in the West End of London and had to deal with irate tourists with varying levels of English, and it’s infinitely easier to converse when there are some mutual language skills. I also travel a lot, so get to test this out quite a bit. I will of course be bringing you travel/language tales here on this very blog.
So, thanks Wendy, for all your informative language posts. I intend to carry on in Wendy’s footsteps, blogging about the latest language news, hints and tips and anecdotes and stories from my own language learning experiences. Please feel free to correct me, help me out, generally mock my language skills, and post some constructive comments once in a while!
Tomorrow is the concluding part of a fascinating five part BBC documentary series called Fry’s Planet Word. In this series, Stephen Fry explores aspects of linguistics and how we learn and how our skills develop, and he travels across the world investigating different languages. I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, but each episode is quite a broad range of different topics under the umbrella of a different theme for each episode. For example; in episode one, entitled “Babel,” Fry covers sign language, animal communication, visits the Nilotic speaking Turkana tribe in Kenya, speaks to a psycholinguist, and explores talks to man who taught his son Klingon as his first language! The programme is not a tool to help you learn other languages, it’s rather a study of linguistics, and will be of interest to anyone studying languages as further information. The series is shown on BBC2 and you can also catch up on iPlayer. Here’s a taster on Youtube.
Have you been watching? What are your thoughts?
Some debate regarding language usage has been stirred up recently, after respected French language body L’Academie Francaise placed some English words on their blacklist of words to “ban”.
In reality, only two words/phrases have been listed so far – “le best of” and “impacter,” a word which means “to impact” and is a mixture of French and English. This move is intended to preserve and enrich the French language. It does not include English words such as “weekend” and “sandwich” which are in everyday use in France. Other words, such as “email,” are encouraged to be abandoned in favour of the correct French, in this case, “courriel”. Here in the UK, a lot of French phrases have been incorporated into everyday language; soiree, raison d’etre, baguette, rendezvous, and deja-vu, to name a few. The difference is that my keyboard doesn’t have the necessary accents to type the words correctly!
Both the French and English languages are historically in no way “pure”, they derive from the Latin and Germanic languages respectively, and have evolved throughout time, incorporating and adapting words from other languages. Whilst it is admirable that steps are being taken to preserve a language, a few crossover words, especially in an ever changing multi-lingual world, surely can’t hurt as long as they are recognised as foreign words?