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I am fluent in Assamese, Hindi and English, having learned all three of these since I was about 1 year old. I can speak Bengali with a little bit of effort.

I have developed this feeling that it takes less energy to convey information in Assamese. So when I am tired or ill, I use an Assamese accent even when speaking Hindi or English. Thinking about it, I think this is probably because Assamese replaces harder sounds with softer sounds: s for ch or chh, z for j etc. and all retroflex sounds are replaced by alveolar stops, all long vowels are replaced by short vowels etc. when comparing Assamese with Hindi.

Is there any proper basis for this? Is there any repository etc. for how much energy is spent in saying different sounds on average? If so any studies on the relative "energy efficiency" of different languages (even if it doesn't include Assamese, Hindi etf. in the data set)?

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  • Related, but not dealing with energy: linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/20350/9781 Dec 21, 2022 at 14:58
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    It probably just means Assamese is ‘more native’ to you than Hindi or English. What is ‘easier’ to pronounce depends mostly on what phonetic inventory your native language contains; for example, /z/ is easier for you than /dʒ/ (what I assume you mean by ‘j’), but for others, it may well be the reverse. Similarly, someone for whom Hindi is ‘most native’, replacing retroflexes with alveolars will probably be more effort, since Hindi distinguishes dental vs retroflex, but not alveolar (cf. how many Indians realise English alveolars as retroflex). Dec 21, 2022 at 15:00

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This is a wide-spread misconception about language, and you are not to be blamed for it. The underlying idea is that one requires some caloric quantity to do anything (you're always doing something, until you're dead). Then maybe is take more energy to do X than it does to do Y. But there is no way to measure how much energy is expended doing a specific thing. The underlying idea of measuring calories burned is based on CO2 output, but this is a crude technique that distinguishes running 10 minutes with a sack of rocks on your back from sitting in a chair for 10 minutes, but doesn't distinguish uttering a sentence in Hindi from uttering a sentence in Assamese. From the scientific POV, there's no basis for saying that one language versus another requires more caloric energy.

Subjectively, people may report that they have a hard time saying things in one language compared to another. This is generally because of differences in fluency, level of experience, and certain socio-contextual facts of the language. A math professor at U. Dar es Salaam once pointed out why it was necessary to teach advanced math in English rather than Swahili – mathematicians don't write proofs in Swahili and the terminology is not natively Swahili (he wasn't interested in finding a way to Swahilize his lectures).

It is somewhat well known that Hindi has many regional varieties such that you can often often guess from a person's accent whether their first language is Tamil, Hindi or Punjabi. The question of effort required to speak Hindi needs to be articulated into questions about speaking "standard Hindi" versus "local Hindi", same with English. It is generally easier to speak the language that is locally used, and your feelings about effort in speaking Hindi may reflect lesser familiarity with standard Hindi, especially spoken as opposed to written. If you happened to speak Goalpariya Assamese as your native language, you might experience a similar struggle in speaking standard Assamese.

It's never about "energy-efficiency" of a language, it's always about the difficulty that an individual faces in using a particular language, which generally reduces to the question of how well they know it (which version?), how often they use it, and for what purpose.

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  • ''From the scientific POV, there's no basis for saying that one language versus another requires more caloric energy.'' +1 for this gem. Dec 21, 2022 at 18:33

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