Nouns slow down our speech

Such slowdown effects provide key evidence for human cognitive processes.


When we talk, we unknowingly articulate a few words more gradually than others, and some of the time, we make a brief pause or throw in meaningless sounds like “uhm.” According to Zurich scientists, such slow-down effects are far less frequent before verbs.

Scientists observed some examples from different languages and provided key evidence on how our brains process language. They point to difficulties when planning the utterance of a specific word.

Scientists analyzed thousands of recordings of spontaneous speech from linguistically and culturally diverse populations from around the world, including the Amazon rainforest, Siberia, the Himalayas, and the Kalahari desert, but also English and Dutch. In these recordings, the researchers looked at slow-down effects before nouns (like “friend”) and verbs (like “come”). They measured the speed of utterance in sounds per second and noted whether speakers made short pauses.

According to scientists, this discovery could play a major role in understanding how the human mind forms dialects. Future neuroscience investigates the necessity to look all the more efficiently at the data estimation of words utilized as a part of a discussion and how the cerebrum responds to contrasts in these qualities.

Prof. Balthasar Bickel from UZH said, “We discovered that in this diverse sample of languages, there is a robust tendency for slow-down effects before nouns as compared to verbs. The reason is that nouns are more difficult to plan because they’re usually only used when they represent new information.”

“We found that English, on which most research is based, displayed the most exceptional behavior in our study. It is thus important to widen the net of languages considered in processing research, including rare, often endangered languages from around the world, to inform our understanding of human language.”

At a broader level, the investigation adds to a more profound comprehension of how languages work in their regular habitat. Such an understanding turns out to be progressively imperative given the challenges that linguistic communication faces in the computerized age, where we impart increasingly with artificial systems- systems that won’t back off before things as people normally do.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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