Wednesday, 11 September 2019

New Zealand rates of speech

I have talked before about how quickly New Zealanders speak (here), and have been quite interested in this phenomenon. 

Apparently we New Zealanders, as the 'newest' English speakers on the planet, expel our syllables 11% faster than our American cousins (Robb, Maclagan & Chen, 2004)* at 284 syllables per minute (spm); the Americans at 254spm. What is even more interesting is that our Aussie older brother speaks more slowly than the Americans at 237spm. The Brits are faster than both the US and Australia at 263spm (Lee & Doherty, 2017).

There are all sorts of hypotheses as to why New Zealand speech is faster than the rest of our Anglo Saxon families. These theories include: geographic isolation; contact with Polynesian languages, possibly causing vowel shifts allowing faster speech, or, as Maori is a syllable-timed language and English is stress-timed, cross-pollination may have allowed timing flexibility; and low population density (Robb et al, 2004).

This goes some way to aiding my understanding of my husbands immense irritation with a Kiwi ex-pat friend, now living in Texas. We wait on every word to s-l-o-w-l-y be delivered, and have to almost reassemble what is said from the component pieces because we have almost forgotten what they were saying by the time each sentence is done...!

It also helps to explain why the original Australian Shortland Street script writers really did have to write quite a lot of extra dialogue for the New Zealand production company. Probably not an urban legend after all.


  • Lee, A., & Doherty, R. (2017). Speaking rate and articulation rate of native speakers of Irish English. Speech, Language and Hearing, 20(4), 206-211.
  • Robb, M. P., Maclagan, M. A., & Chen, Y. (2004). Speaking rates of American and New Zealand varieties of English. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 18(1), 1-15.
  • Williams, J. R. (1998). Guidelines for the use of multimedia in instruction. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 42nd Annual Meeting, 42(20), 1447–1451. Los Angeles CA, USA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
* Spoken NZ English averages at 284 syllables/minute; US 254 syllables/minute (Robb et al, 2004, p. 7) using NZ data as a base. If using US English data as a base, NZ English is spoken 12% faster.

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