As native speakers, we all have assumptions about the particular speed of languages other than our own. And most of the time, our assumptions are correct. Empirically speaking, linguists measure the speed of languages by how many syllables are articulated per second or per minute. Of course, we don’t have data from all the languages of the world to have a definitive list, but here is what we know so far, according to a study that was conducted by Pellegrino, Coupé, and Marco:
Japanese is the fastest recorded language. It has a rate of 7.84 syllables per second.
Spanish is right behind Japanese and is nearly as fast with a rate of 7.82 syllables per second.
French lags just a little far behind with a rate of 7.18 syllables per second.
Italian is relatively slower than Spanish and French with a rate of 6.99 syllables per second.
English is among the slower languages with a rate of 6.19 syllables per second.
Before last is German with a speed of 5.97 syllables per second.
Mandarin is the slowest recorded language with a rate as low as 5.18 syllables per second.
Here is a graph that summarizes this list:
An important note to bear in mind is that languages with either a complex tone (4 or more tones), or complex consonant clusters, tend to be slower while languages with no tone, or a very simple tone system (e.g., a 1-tone vs no tone contrast like most dialects of Japanese) and primarily CV (consonant-vowel) syllable structure tend to be faster.
Hilton, N. H., Schüppert, A., & Gooskens, C. (2011). Syllable reduction and articulation rates in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. Nordic Journal of Linguistics, 34(02), 215-237.
Pellegrino, F., Coupé, C., & Marsico, E. (2011). Across-language perspective on speech information rate. Language, 87(3), 539-558.
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