I consider myself almost fluent in English, but have trouble understanding when the words are blended together. This includes for example noisy places, song lyrics, or accents. In Czech, I have no such problems. I'm also learning French, where I can't see how native speakers can distinguish between the various contracted forms that make more words sound like one. I wonder if there is some fundamental difference between languages (for example, I'd speculate that languages with big differences between spelling and pronounciation would be less legible). Note that I'm talking about native speakers, not second languages (where the amount of experience is different).

  • Each language has a particular frequency range, so if a noisy sound matches the frequency range of a particular language, you can hear nothing. See: medium.com/language-insights/…
    – amegnunsen
    Mar 20, 2019 at 21:02
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    Native speakers generally manage fine in their languages. This question looks related: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/26949/… Mar 20, 2019 at 21:30
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    This seems an interesting topic to explore, but I'd point out that noisy places, song lyrics and accents seem to be three very different conditions. For example, attention would be an important cognitive mechanism for the noisy market example, but probably less for accented speech in a quiet environment. I expect there would not be a single answer to this. Mar 20, 2019 at 23:24
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    There is probably a huge difference between L1 and L2 for any language pair: We have a ot of training understanding our L1 in a noisy environment, but not so for L2 (until recently, listening comprehension under noise was not even a part of L2 learning programs). Mar 21, 2019 at 9:48
  • @jknappen is right. There are other variables, for example a Czech speaker will mostly be exposed to familiar dialects of Czech, but to dialects of English in songs and so on that were never taught in school or by the BBC. There are big reasons to be skeptical of this whole line of thought. It is totally possible that it varies more within a language than between languages anyway. Mar 21, 2019 at 18:57

1 Answer 1


First, let's consider noisy environment as barely equal to fast speech.

I guess this is related to several variables:

  • Differences between words – the more different words are, the more likely you are able to correct mishearings. I don't see a simple metric here. Sometimes, there are pairs of two similarly sounding words that are unlikely to be confused, as just ome of them makes sense in such context.
  • Typical speech speed – the slower people are speaking, the more likely you are able to correct mishearings.
  • Word length – the longer words, the larger differences between words can be.

If we wanted to make an artificial language we could optimize all those three variables to some point. After reaching the point, you cannot optimize one of them without sacrifying some other of them:

  • You can increase differences between words, but you need to increase their length.
  • You can increase typical speech speed, but you need more significant differences between words.
  • You can decrease word length at cost of sacrificing differences between words.

After all, any language with great redundancy is likely to be spoken fast (because they can) and any language with small redundancy is likely to be spoken slowly (because they need to). Imagine you speak your native language as fast as you can, so others still understand it well. It doesn't really matter what you language is; in any case, the ability of correction of mishearings will be about the same.

You might think than dialects of Ostrava (people speek really fast) and Prague (people speak really slow) are counter-examples. This might be the case when people from those two areas meet. But people from both areas have their own ability to handle fast speech.

I don't think there is any relation to writing system. A native language is both evolved and learned in the spoken form in the first place. Written form more or less follows the spoken form, and it is usually more or less behind. (English – written form is much behind of the spoken form; Czech – written form is slightly behind, see differences between I and Y or Ú and Ů or transition from W to V.)

  • I wonder if your point about differences between words also applies to grammar - e.g. an English sentence with a misheard word is more likely to still be grammatical than a Czech one (because of word modifications - English words can have multiple roles that are usually marked in Czech).
    – Kotlopou
    May 13, 2019 at 18:43
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    "let's consider noisy environment as barely equal to fast speech" - I'm not sure that this consideration is well-motivated, or at least you don't give any reasons why you think it is. In fast speech, the auditory channel is clear but the rate is too high to process well; in noisy environments, the auditory channel itself is not clear. For example, depending on the frequencies of the noise, sibilants might become hard to disambiguate from shibilants or fricatives. May 14, 2019 at 14:36

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