How fast did Cicero speak?

The speech rate of Classical Latin versus its Romance descendants


  • Daniel Stelzer University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


While languages convey significantly different amounts of both information per syllable and syllables per second, recent research suggests that the product of these values— information conveyed per second—is much less variable. Using new methods of extrapolation and resampling, I was able to estimate the information conveyed per syllable in a written Classical Latin corpus. I was then able to use this cross-linguistic consistency to estimate the natural speech rate of Classical Latin, a language that has not been natively spoken for thousands of years. My analysis suggests that it was spoken at a rate significantly slower than modern Romance languages, fairly similar to modern English; a high-level consideration of historical sound changes in Romance supports this conclusion, lending additional credence to my results.


Information density, Speech rate, Latin, Information theory, Resampling


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