Language of Generations

Last week the new CBC radio show Babel, which is dedicated to dissecting language, explored the idea of the gap between formal and informal language, the way we are receiving what is being said to us and even the changes being made by a whole new type of language, that which we have created with our computers and our smart phones.

The show’s host Mariel Borelli explained that we used to speak on average 145 words per minute, but research has shown that that number has jumped to between 160 and 180.  Is this a sign that we’re mimicking our speedy technology and 24 hour culture? We’ve all spoken with someone who speaks just a little too fast or a little too slow, and in both circumstances it leads to a feeling of awkwardness or anxiousness.  Tone, speed and enunciation is just as important as the context of what we’re talking about – especially if you’re trying to win over who you are speaking with. Back in 2008 the BBC reported on a UK study that claimed to have found the formula for the perfect human voice, based on subject’s ratings of 50 different voices.  Linguist Andrew Linn and sound engineer Shannon Harris found that an, “ideal voice should utter no more than 164 words per minute and pause for 0.48 seconds between sentences.”  The article also noted, which interestingly has a few computer-generated ‘perfect’ voices that you can listen to, that the study named English actors Jeremy Irons, Alan Rickman and Judi Dench among the best male and female voices. “Vocal traits associated with positive characteristics, such as confidence and trust, scored highly with listeners,” the report continued. Based on that research, conducted nearly five years ago, we are apparently quite accustom to the 160 words a minute that we have sped up to and if we encounter anyone who speaks slower – or at the supposed customary rate – we might easily get frustrated or bored with them, brushing them off as an old drawling country sort. The gap between the new way of doing things and the old way has always been there.  I did things differently than how my father did them and likewise, he did differently than his.  Incidentally a short animation that was previewed before the Pixar film Brave, a charming coming of age story called La Luna written and directed by Enrico Casarosa, shows this concept perfectly in that sweet and magical way so often adopted by Pixar and Disney.  If you haven’t seen it, it is highly recommended. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

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