e.g. while reading quietly and reading out loud. Different people read at different rates, so let's say the delay in terms of beat ratio: if for example every vowel takes one beat on average, how many beats does a period delay take?

Is there any research on this topic? (Not sure if linguistics is the right area. Which field would this belong to?)

  • 2
    No. There aren't any "beats" to count. You're confusing written language (which has periods but no beats) with spoken language (which has beats but no periods). Read a linguistics book.
    – jlawler
    Dec 17, 2012 at 4:52
  • What do you hope to find out from this research? I feel like you're coming in with a few false-assumptions, some of which @jlawler already pointed out. Reading aloud is not a natural speech act and thus would be incredibly difficult to study. Since you mention reading quietly, I assume you want to know how long the brain waits after finishing one sentence before beginning to process the next. I don't know enough about how the brain processes written language to give you any sources but that seems like that too would be incredibly difficult to study. What about studies on sign language?
    – acattle
    Dec 17, 2012 at 9:03
  • @acattle, yes, that's what I was looking for, the delay between finishing one sentence and starting another. I used "beats" because you're reading out loud, and "period" because you're reading from written text. Measuring brain processes would be difficult (eye movement maybe?) but I don't see why reading out loud would be. We just ask a lot of people to read long texts (audiobooks for example, but maybe that's a biased sample) at their "natural" rate and measure their pauses. Sign language would be great, too. Thanks! Dec 17, 2012 at 13:22
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    Natural speech (as opposed to deliberate speech) is usually a constant stream of sound. People don't actually stop at the end of a sentence. I am not an expert but I imagine sign language is much the same way. The problem with having people read some text (and maybe recording it) is observational bias: You can't know if they are pausing because their brain is processing the sentence or if they are pausing for the benefit of some imaginary listener. The only way around that would be to have people read quietly and track their eye movements.
    – acattle
    Dec 17, 2012 at 16:31
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    Silent reading is measurable by eyetracking. However, the point is that reading is a technological skill, and not a naturally evolved skill like speaking a language. This means that there is no human genetic adaptation (yet) for reading, and not only does everybody read at different speeds, everybody also reads differently, so -- unlike speech --averaged speeds can measure nothing substantive about what's going on inside a reader's brain.
    – jlawler
    Dec 17, 2012 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


Marshall and Newcombe (1973) describe two processes or pathways in the brain for reading: a phonological, which derives meaning by recognising the sound; and a semantic, which recognises the pattern of the word. Since a full stop/period is never spoken -unless dictating a telegram (anyone here done that recently?), and is only a marker representing the ending or beginning of a language 'event'. I doubt if the brain stops to consider this any longer than any other word that has been recognised from the brain's store of words. Having said that, one could measure gaps when reading aloud as this would presumably be a performance and require pauses as markers for the audience, but this would seem to be a question on the craft of acting, rather than a linguistic one.

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