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Was Classical Latin spoken fast like in the Romance languages or slow like in English? In all the Nuntii Latini episodes, Classical Latin is spoken fast like in the Romance languages, https://areena.yle.fi/audio/1-1931339, Thomas Bervoets speaks Classical Latin both fast like in the Romance languages, https://www.stilus.nl/ce-geluid/47.mp3 and slow like in English! https://www.stilus.nl/ce-geluid/VergAen%20III,506-569%20Provehimur%20pelago.mp3

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    My results on this topic will hopefully be published soon, and then I'll have citable evidence for a proper answer; in the meantime, I can say it seems to have been spoken significantly slower than modern Romance languages, closer to English.
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 17:05
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    The assumptions in this question seem unfounded. Speaking rate in all languages varies between speakers and situations. It's not at all clear to me either that one can meaningfully talk about the speaking rate of a language, or that the Romance languages are generally spoken faster than English in any sense.
    – TKR
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 14:24
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    @TKR: one way of measuring speech rate is number of syllables/unit of time, and languages do have measurable differences on this metric (which is likely related a lot to the types of syllables that a language uses). Some relevant Language Log posts: "Speech rate and per-syllable information across languages", 2008, Mark Liberman, "Speed vs. efficiency in speech production and reception", 2019, Victor Mair
    – Asteroides
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 0:22
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    @AnaMaria I sent my final revisions in to the editors yesterday, so hopefully soon!
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 1:06
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    @Jacqueline Indeed it has! I'd forgotten about this; let me add it as a new answer.
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 22:55

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Stelzer 2022 used information theory to estimate the speech rate of Classical Latin. Basically, there seems to be an optimal rate for information conveyed per second across all the world's (spoken) languages; if a language conveys more information per syllable, it's spoken with fewer syllables per second, and vice versa. Since we can measure the amount of information conveyed per syllable in Classical Latin, we can "reverse-engineer" a speech rate from that.

The result was an estimated 6.29 syllables per second, significantly slower than the modern Romance languages. (Bars show one standard deviation around the mean.)

showing Latin being slower than Italian, French, Spanish, or Catalan

However, it's fairly average for the languages of the world, and in fact very close to modern English.

showing Latin being faster than Vietnamese and slower than Japanese

Disclaimer: I am the author of this paper.

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  • Did the speech rate stay the same when reciting poetry, making speeches, and reading letters?
    – Ana Maria
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 21:50
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    @AnaMaria Good question! It probably didn't—generally poetry and speeches come a bit slower, to make sure the audience understands them, while reading a letter happens a bit faster, since the words are already prepared for you. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with any studies on this but it seems like a fertile area for further research!
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 23:36
  • I remember now that there was a rhythmic figure in Classical Latin speeches called Clausula, used to add finality to the end of a sentence or phrase, which also existed in letters! The fact that there was rhythm implies that Clausula was fast spoken, and Wikipedia says that there is no doubt that the skilful use of clausulae was one of the techniques which an orator used to excite an audience. Cicero writes of one occasion when the use of a certain clausula (a dichoreus or double trochee – u – x) by the orator Carbo the Younger was so effective that the audience all gave a shout!
    – Ana Maria
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 20:00
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clausula_(rhetoric)
    – Ana Maria
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 20:01
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I'm sure that the actual rate of speech would vary based on region, the age of the speaker, fluency, etc. just as in any language today.

But it's clear that elision of final vowels was common (as it is in many modern Romance languages) which may have made it sound fast to an English speaker, as that's one of the features of Romance languages that can make them sound "fast".

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