Is English inefficient?

Two people have told me, in friendly conversation, that English speakers take longer to say anything.
One, a Mexican American (Spanish speaker) who is a teacher, was born in the US and has extensive family and friends in Mexico, says that we (including himself) talk slowly and use a lot of words.
The other, an Indian (Indian? and Farsi speaker) clerk in a mini market agrees. She said speaking with her English only speaking employees actually slows things down slightly.
Both speak English perfectly and enjoy talking to people in English.
All the above is “old news”, as I haven’t seen either in years.
But, being curious, I watch tv programs from many other countries and most do seem to get their points accross more quickly than we do. Except BBC that is. :smiley:
Anyway, I wonder if anyone “out there”, especially multi-lingual folks, agree that us English speakers use more time to say whar we want to say.
Peace,
mangeorge

The Germanic languages do tend to be wordy; English is one of the more efficient in that group, though.

It’s also very flexible about word creation (compound words, switching words between grammatical categories), which I think is nice.

I recall reading somewhere that printed English is comparatively concise. Generally on bilingual signs here, the English takes up slightly less space than the French.

It does sound the slowest when spoken, but that may be because I don’t understand the other languages very well.

Dem furriers talk too fast!

Check out some Spanish instructions from some product and compare them to the English ones. All the Spanish ones I’ve seen are longer.

I mean more along the lines of spoken language. Especially conversational language.
Watch a novella on Telemundo. Even there, they speak prettyfast. And they’re being poetic. Spoken Spanish on newscasts and sports programs is much faster. Even when talking heads are doing analyis.

It seems to take longer to say things in Japanese than English, if that’s any comfort. Maybe it’s all the honorifics and declensions and stuff. If you ever watch a cartoon that originated in Japan and that was then dubbed into English, you’ll see what I mean. A lot of the English dialog seems to be filler, taking up time while the character’s mouth is still moving, but unnecessary to communication. Same if you watch NHK World, where the Japanese is over-dubbed (not trying to match the speaker or anything, just conveying the content) into English. The English usually starts after the Japanese does, and ends sooner.
Roddy

Not compared to the Romance languages (which are the ones I speak, or have spoken at some time in my life). English is very business-like, and anyone that translates from Spanish to English (or viceversa) will agree with me. Spanish is (with the exception of not needing pronouns) maddeningly wordy and sometimes even redundant.

Few things can be said with fewer words in a Romance language.

The downside is that sometimes English lacks nuance (IMHO).

But Spanish speakers talk so fast! At least Mexican Spanish speakers do.

I am not a linguist but I disagree with most of the above posters. English is the most flexible language in the world and can be used from anything from extremely concise communication to extensive flowery prose depending on the context. English has the largest vocabulary in the world for a reason. Some words are close duplicates but not perfect ones and can be used to mean the same thing and even sentences or whole paragraphs with wildly different lengths. There is no reason to pretend that all languages are equal in that regard.

I talk to English speaking people around the world as part of my job and the styles are very different but we still manage. People tend to translate their native language directly into English with different results as well which is why it can be difficult to speak to English speakers in India or the Middle East for example. We use tones and implied context to a great degree just like other languages do and those can be very subtle.

Mastery of English is difficult for non-native speakers but basic ideas are easy to learn and convey so that other English speakers can understand them.

Simple questions can have the very different responses that get the same job done. Brainstorm all the answers you could get when you ask where a restroom is and still understand and there will be lots of them from extremely simple to very complex. If someone asks you what happened with the person you met in the bar last night, “Back to my place, no sain (pronounce it out loud)?” means the same thing as a paragraph in other styles.

I was going to mention this. And you’ll notice that Japanese is usually spoken faster, and still winds up being longer than the English. That said, the filler is probably present in the Japanese–there’s a lot of indirect speech in Japanese.

Shagnasty makes a good point. Ask a stranger in Maine “Is this the road to Bangor” and you’ll get a “Yup”. Ask a stranger in Texas “Is this the road to Houston”, and you might as well order lunch beacuse learn more than you ever wanted to about Sam and anything that comes to his mind. :wink:
Okay, I exaggerate. But there will be a difference. The Texan will likeky tell you a much better way to get to Houston.

To me, Spanish and English convey thoughts and ideas at about the same rate, although there is no doubt that Spanish sounds faster.
After living in Japan a year, I thought Japanese sounded wordier than English and took longer to say the same thing. That’s just my impression. I found Japanese to be beautiful to listen to; highly inflected.
Chinese, on the other hand, can be amazingly brief, almost telegraphic. They like to reduce a long phrase or idea down to a 4-character phrase that you would not understand without someone explaining it to you or learning it from a book. I find Chinese the funnest language to speak; difficult, but not as difficult as Japanese.

I think of English - which is a language - as very efficient, as demonstrated by the shortness of the English instructions in multilingual instruction sheets and manuals, and by the enormous vocabulary (nearly a million words if you include technical terms). I like Shagnasty’s points, too.

How verbose or brief its speakers tend to be is a different thing. Some American traditions are renowned for terse and sparing phrasing, including the olden days of New England or the Midwest. On the other hand you don’t have to look far to find stunning examples of overwhelming effusion, such as Al Haig’s “at this juncture of maturization” for “now”, or perhaps most of our chatter on television programs, which never even needed to be said and has an efficiency of zero.

Cite? Do you speak any of those thousands of less flexible languages? I’m no linguist either but I do speak a number of languages other than English and none of them strike me as less flexible per se.

I’m a French student, not yet fluent, and native English speaker.

In my opinion, English is one of the most efficient languages, not just in terms of grammatical structure and number of words required to get a point across, but in terms of the variety of very precise words (words with similar meanings but which convey very different meaning, i.e. thin, lean, skinny, gaunt, emmaciated, fit, slender, slim, etc…)

According to linguists I’ve read, one of the reasons English has spread so far and wide and become one of the top few languages of international commerce is that it IS so relatively efficient and concise.

I agree that, overall, American spoken English tends to be delivered much more slowly than some other languages (Spanish, Japanese to name a few).

But looking at instructions or sentences in Spanish or French vs English? Almost always the case that the English version is much shorter and more direct.

There are limitations to English, though. For one thing, we don’t express gender very often. Sure, we have “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” but what about “typist”? Or more importantly, “cousin”?

Also, we don’t have have a singular/plural “you”. We even use the same word for a general “a person” sense, like “you can lead a horse to water”.

We don’t have an inclusive/exclusive “we”. Have you ever been in an awkward situation where someone said “OK, we’re going to lunch now.” and you say “OK, where are we eating?” Then the room gets weird and the first person goes “No, no. ‘We’ as in ‘Bob and I’. You stay here.”

And I’m sure if we used a declension system, we’d be able to say more things. Such as it is, we rely on a rigid word order to convey things. Ex: “I gave Bob the book.” Did I give Bob to the book, or the book to Bob? Because of the word order, you know that Bob is an indirect object of “gave”. Try playing with the word order though: “I gave the book Bob.” Doesn’t make sense. So in order to ‘pay for’ your word shifting, you have to add a word. Namely “to”: I gave the book to Bob." That makes the sentence longer, and thus, less efficient. Same thing with “I want a table”. If you want to rephrase that to emphasize the table part, you have to add words: “A table is what I want.”

Finally, there’s the syncretism of repetitive and continual actions. “Sigh. Paul is gambling again.” What, you mean right now, or in general? Is he repeating his action, or is it ongoing at the current time? Then there’s the combination of habitual and simple actions. “He runs.” Do you mean he’s running right now or that he likes to run as a habit? “I gave to charity.” You mean you used to give repeatedly, like a habit, or that you just gave one or more time in the past? To straighten it out, again you have to add words: “I gave and gave and gave to charity.”

Seeing as how other languages can do these things, no problem, I don’t think you can say that English is “most flexible”.

I used to be conversant in Spanish and I can read French. Try an experiment here and give us a simple sentence and see how many ways it can be expressed in English. To answer your question directly, I don’t speak every language in the world and know few people that do but I trust some research by others.

English has the largest number of words by far of any language so that does make it more flexible for expressing very similar but slightly different ideas with just one word. InterestedObserver gave some good examples for describing a body type but that applies to lots of things. English also takes words from other languages when needed if there isn’t a direct English equivalent. There was no English word for the German word angst for example but there is no need to worry because it is an English word now too. If another language does a better job at something, we just take it as opposed to forcing it into the existing language vocabulary and structure. The romance languages don’t do that as well as English because English is an extreme hybrid language and has many ways and structures to express the same thing ranging from ebonics to Shakespearean English and most English speakers can understand all of those to some degree.

As if that characterization actually meant anything to begin with. What I suspect the Nasty Shag is using it to mean, unwittingly, is “most like English.” In which case his fatuous little observation is tautologically true, I suppose.

The rest of his remarks demonstrate such a palpable lack of familiarity with the study of language, including the fields of linguistics, neurology, and the philosophy of language, that they really should not detain us any further.

There are lots of things or distinctions that English does not have words for, but other languages do. For example, in Cantonese you can distinguish aunts and uncles on the mother’s side from those on the father’s side; they are different words.