Information density affects the spoken speed of some languages

Wednesday, 14 September, 2011

While some languages sound as if they’re being spoken at a faster rate than others, it’s not necessarily a perception that arises from being unable to comprehend the discourse, some languages have a lower information density than others, meaning more syllables or words are required to convey the same information.

English, with a high information density of .91, is spoken at an average rate of 6.19 syllables per second. Mandarin, which topped the density list at .94, was the spoken slowpoke at 5.18 syllables per second. Spanish, with a low-density .63, rips along at a syllable-per-second velocity of 7.82. The true speed demon of the group, however, was Japanese, which edges past Spanish at 7.84, thanks to its low density of .49. Despite those differences, at the end of, say, a minute of speech, all of the languages would have conveyed more or less identical amounts of information.

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Tidles pedal the point with suggestive though silent pauses

Monday, 13 December, 2010

Those who like to punctuate their writing with ellipses … to indicate pauses or incomplete thoughts – as I do from time to time – might also like to consider adding tildes ∼ to their repertoire, as a “pedal point”, to indicate suggestive silences, as Jeffrey Lancaster does.

∼ Placed at the end of a sentence, the “pedal point” signifies a thought that dissolves into a suggestive silence. The pedal point is distinguished from the ellipsis and the dash in that the thought it follows is neither incomplete nor interrupted but an outstretched hand. My younger brother uses these a lot with me, probably because he, of all the members of my family, is the one most capable of telling me what he needs to tell me without having to say it. Or, rather, he’s the one whose words I’m most convinced I don’t need to hear. Very often he will say, “Jonathan∼” and I will say, “I know.”

An example of a suggestive silence could be something like “are you going over to the coffee shop∼”.

I also – in email and messaging – use the tilde as a way of indicating an approximate – give or take – value, such as time, for instance. I’ll be in the city for three hours∼ this afternoon. So suggestive also, rather than indicative…

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Minor keys convey sadness in both music and human voices

Wednesday, 7 July, 2010

While minor keys are used to convey sorrow or sadness in music – as opposed to major keys which tend to be more upbeat – a US scientist has found that similar minor keys also intone the same emotions in human speech:

A scientist in Massachusetts thinks she’s discovered a link between the interval of a minor third (C major to E flat, say) and expressions of sadness in human speech. Meagan Curtis found in her study that the speech-melodies of actors’ voices (the movement of pitch in their intonation) happened to encompass a minor third when they were asked to communicate sadness.

Curtis’ work only examined the structure of western music and speech, in particular American written English samples, but poses the question, are minor keys used to express morose emotions in the speech and music of other cultures as well?

Other languages and other musical cultures will surely have different expressions for emotional intensity – something Curtis’s study can’t tell us, as her sample was limited to American English. Besides which, the use of the minor key in any song or symphony is only one way to communicate sadness.

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Making yourself better understood on the phone by saying hello

Thursday, 25 February, 2010

Saying hello first to someone you are speaking to on the phone may help them better understand what you ask for next, as it allows them time to comprehend your vocal range, something that is usually more instantaneous in face to face situations.

Vowel sounds are made by using the mouth as a resonating cavity, and distinguished from each other by such things as the position of the tongue, which changes the resonance. Since vocal cavities vary in size, we can understand a person’s vowels only in relation to their other vowels. The pitch of a large man and a small child are very different. In fact, a larger person’s high vowel in “see” could have the same pitch as a smaller person’s low vowel in “saw.”

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Martin Luther King: more than a dream

Wednesday, 21 January, 2009

The full transcript, which I hadn’t actually seen in it’s entirety before, of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, which he delivered on 28 August 1963.

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