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A new study into speech patterns among speakers of various languages has revealed important insights into the type of words that are most likely to result in pauses, hesitation and difficulties.
Scientists from the University of Zurich and University of Amsterdam analysed thousands of recordings of spontaneous speech from diverse populations and languages, including English and Dutch, as well as groups from the Amazon rainforest, Siberia, the Himalayas, and the Kalahari Desert.
It was found that speakers paused or utilised filler noises such as "um" more frequently before using nouns, due to the fact these are more likely to represent a new concept in the sentence, whereas verbs tend to be more common and often reused.
The researchers said: "We discovered that in this diverse sample of languages, there is a robust tendency for slowdown 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."
It was also observed that the use of pronouns such as "she" or "it" reduces the delay in speaking about a concept that has already been established in a given sentence, while further emphasising the delay when introducing a noun to represent a new idea.
This trend was observed across multiple populations, although the bulk of the research was based on English. Further studies will be needed to explore how these mental processing delays affect the speed of speech in other, less common forms of language.
Nevertheless, the study could provide new insights for speech therapists into the root causes of why some types of word are more difficult to articulate than others. It may also inform neuroscience research through its focus on systematically analysing the information value of words used in conversation, and how the brain reacts to differences in these values.
Written by Martin Lambert
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