Saturday, October 17, 2009

Speech rates in the news: Intra-Scandinavian differences

There's a long tradition of interest in whether certain languages or dialects are spoken faster than others. Here's probably the classic and highly accessible reference on the topic:*

Roach, Peter. 1998. Myth 18: Some languages are spoken more quickly than others. L. Bauer & P. Trudgill (eds.), Language Myths. London: Penguin. 150–158.

Now, a set of news reports from Scandinavia are covering a dissertation by Anja Schüppert (Groningen, the Netherlands)  showing that Danes speak far faster than Swedes. (See here for a Danish report and here for a Norwegian one — and the national perspective may differ more than the language!) The dissertation apparently finds that the difference is massive, 25-40%. I haven't tracked down the book yet, and the reports aren't too explicit, so I don't know exactly what was measured or how, but that's beyond other reports of such differences that I'm aware of. One of the interesting points (noted in the Danish report) is a possible correlations with Danish children learning to speak later than Swedish children. Gotta track down this one.

HT to LA, and that's not a city in SoCal.

*Probably as part of the "don't take us too seriously" atmosphere on this blog, we don't normally plug our own scholarship but I've been part of some work on this topic too:
Jacewicz, E., R. Allen Fox & J. Salmons. 2009. Articulation rate across dialect, gender and age. Language Variation & Change 21.233-256.


1 said...

Hi, do you have any info/references about differences in age between languages in first language acquisition? I can't find anything... Thanks

John said...

Hi Mr Verb,
I don't see how on earth anyone could measure the rate of speech in language against that of another.
I know that my wife, who speaks Madrid Spanish, speaks it with her uncle (same variety) at a rate that defies words to air intake ratio. When she's talking to her Galician relatives, the rate slows, etc, etc. Surely, rate is influenced to a great extent by context, which itself will have many variables even within a single variety of one language.
And so I return to my original question.
J from UK

Joe said...

Well, 1, I don't have data on differences in age of L1 acquisition. I imagine that those differences are not great, even significant, but I don't know.

John: Comparing speech rates is, as you indicate, VERY difficult. In fact, our articles on the subject show these difficulties pretty clearly. We're at the very beginning of understanding the most basic data, and are of course well aware that bilingual/bidialectal speakers will vary, even beyond the considerable variation by type of speaking and speech partner, etc. For a starting point, we carefully controlled settings, and focused simply on speech among monolinguals.