Why do some languages sound so fast?

posted by Sandeep

To unfamiliar ears, many foreign languages sound unintelligibly fast. Does this have to do with something inherent in the language itself, or is it just because we don’t know what the other speaker is saying?

A study that appeared in the journal Language is summarized in TIME today. It attempts to answer this question with the following experiment:

To investigate this puzzle, researchers from the Universite de Lyon recruited 59 male and female volunteers who were native speakers of one of seven common languages — English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish — and one not so common one: Vietnamese. They instructed them all to read 20 different texts, including the one about the housecat and the locked door, into a recorder. All of the volunteers read all 20 passages in their native languages.

Read the article in TIME to find out what the investigators found. Really fascinating stuff!