Speedier speech doesn’t necessarily increase how much you can say
I’ve been told by non-Americans that we speak slowly. This wasn’t just from native speakers of other languages that generally packed twice the syllables into each word, but also from an Irish neighbor who was concerned that talking with us was slowing her down. A recent study suggests that the rate of speech isn’t necessarily slowing down the how quickly my neighbor communicates though. By analyzing both short conversations and longer interviews, it seems that we all convey the same amount of information by the end of long or short sentences.
Sifting through nearly 2,500 conversations, researchers first had to define what the conversational information rate even meant. They compared sentence structure, vocabulary, and how those words were used in relation to each other. They also, obviously, measured the time it took to get each word out, at which point they could compare lexical and structural complexity to time. By the end of it all, and controlling for differences in age, gender, and who else was being talked to, it appeared that the same amount of information was conveyed in each sentence, no matter how long it took to say it. This is because the two main metrics where inversely proportioned to each other. Or to say it faster, as speech sped up, the complexity of that speech declined.
Speaking for listening
Researchers don’t think this constant info-per-second is capped by how much we can say, but how much we think our audience can listen. The one big demographic difference that emerged from the data was that women tend to convey a little less information than men. Coupled with women’s higher likely likelihood to confirm the listener’s understanding of shared information, researchers believe that, while this difference is very likely to have been the product of societal norms, it shows a concern how well we’re being understood with each sentence. Overall, it’s likely that there’s a natural rhythm and amount of data the average human brain can handle at a time, and so successful speakers adjust their statements to fit within that allotment, no matter how long it takes to do so.
Source: Whether our speech is fast or slow, we say about the same, Scienmag