Thursday, September 05, 2019

All languages appear to convey information at about the same rate

Maybe this is not interesting to everyone, but it's interesting to me. A study at the University of Lyon in France has established that there is probably a universal rate of information exchange common to all languages.
The study looked at 17 very different languages, from English to Vietnamese to Basque to Japanese. This is not a huge sample if languages, granted, but the unexpected consistency of the results justify a future extension of the study to other languages. What it found was that, regardless of the complexity, number of basic sounds, number of syllables, use of tones, etc, all languages come pretty close to the average of 39 bits per second when measured for the speed at which information is transmitted, suggesting that this might represent an optimal speed for communication and understanding. Thus, languages like Vietnamese that have a relatively high information density in terms of bits of information per syllable, tend to be spoken more slowly than a language like Basque which has a relatively low information density, so that the overall speed of information transfer is about the same.
It also makes you realize just how slow information transfer is in human speech compared to the millions of bits of information per second that computers can handle.

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