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We explored the relations between task difficulty and speech time in picture description tasks. Six native speakers of Mandarin Chinese (CH group) and six native speakers or Indo-European languages (IE group) produced quick and accurate verbal descriptions of pictures in a self-paced manner. The pictures always involved two objects, a plate and one of the three objects (a stick, a fork, or a knife) located and oriented differently with respect to the plate in different trials. An index of difficulty was assigned to each picture. CH group showed lower reaction time and much lower speech time. Speech time scaled linearly with the log-transformed index of difficulty in all subjects. The results suggest generality of Fitts’ law for movement and speech tasks, and possibly for other cognitive tasks as well. The differences between the CH and IE groups may be due to specific task features, differences in the grammatical rules of CH and IE languages, and possible use of tone for information transmission.
Latash is with the Department of Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. Mikaelian is with the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.