What's the upper limit on how fast someone can talk?

Tuesday 16th October 2012
Submitted by Luis Villazon
Amanda Davies, King's Lynn

The current record, in English at least, is 637 words per minute, a record held by English comedian and presenter Steve Woodmore. That's about four times faster than most people talk and twice as fast as we can read. The practical limit on speech is comprehension. Beyond 300 words per minute, you can't really make out the individual words clearly – record attempts are adjudicated by recording the speech and playing it back more slowly.

The theoretical upper limit on speed would be the rate at which the facial muscles can contract. Muscle fibres can't contract faster than about five times per second, so if you are repeating the mouth-stretching words "wow oh wow oh", your lips couldn't manage to open and close more than 300 times per minute. Alternating between different muscles might let you interleave more words but 637 definitely looks like it's quite close to the natural limit.
 

What proportion of swimming pool water is wee?
previous qanda Article
How do USB flash drives hold so much data?
next qanda Article
Q&A Tabs

For most people, a single unit of alcohol takes around two hours to metabolise. For ordinary-strength beer, the legal limit is approximately two pints, so you would need four hours to metabolise...

Viagra is the brand name for sildenafil citrate, a drug that was originally studied for use in patients with high blood pressure or heart disease. It works by blocking the action of an enzyme...

The chip inside contains a grid of transistors acting like tiny switches. All data is reduced to binary 1s and 0s and one of these values is stored at each point in the memory. To store a '1', the...

Bank notes last for anything between a year – for the 250 million or so £5 notes in circulation – to over five years for the rarely seen (at least by the Focus team) £50...

The first component of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched in 1998, and the final piece is due to be added in 2010. When it's finished, the ISS will have a mass of nearly 420,000kg...

All female mammals have a clitoris, the sole purpose of which is to react to sexual stimulation, and presumably this stimulation has evolved to be pleasurable for most species. But establishing...

To create a sound, we have to set matter - whether it's a gas like air, a liquid or even a solid material - in regular motion, creating a wave of specific frequencies, which we hear as a sound of...

Mirrors don’t reverse left and right either – that’s just our interpretation of what happens. Your reflection in the mirror is actually reversed front to back – if you have...

Discovered by an American student named Gary Flandro in the mid-1960s, the slingshot manoeuvre usually involves spacecraft briefly 'coat-tailing' a planet orbiting the Sun, extracting some of the...

The ice disappears because the wind blows away water molecules that have evaporated or 'sublimed' from the ice, so the ice slowly shrinks in size. The molecules that escape are those with the...