Italians are the fastest speakers on the planet - Seeker's Thoughts

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Italians are the fastest speakers on the planet

According to the new study published in Science Advance, more efficient languages tend to be spoken more slowly. In other words, no matter how quickly chatter, the rate of information they’re transmitting is roughly the same across language.

Italians are some of the fastest speakers on the planet, chattering at up to nine syllables per second. Many Germans, on the other hand, are slow enunciators, delivering five to six syllables in the same amount of time. 

Yet in any given minute, Italians and Germans convey roughly the same amount of information, according to a new study. Indeed, no matter how fast or slowly languages are spoken, they tend to transmit information at about the same rate: 39 bits per second, about twice the speed of Morse code.
The basic problem of “efficiency,” in linguistics, starts with the trade-off between effort and communication. It takes a certain amount of coordination, and burns a certain number of calories, to make noises come out of your mouth in an intelligible way. And those noises can be more or less informative to a listener, based on how predictable they are.

What is Morse Code?
Morse code – Morse code is a method of sending text messages by keying ins a series of electronic pulse, usually represented as a short ( called a “dot”) and a long pulse ( a “dash”).

The code was devised by Samuel F.B Morse in the 1840s to work with his invention of the telegraph, the first invention to effectively exploit electromagnetism for long-distance communication. 
The early telegrapher, often the one who was at a railroad station interconnected with others along miles of telegraph pole lines, would tap a key up and down to send a succession of characters that the receiving telegrapher could read from tape (later operators learned to read the transmissions simply by listening). 

In the original version, the key down separated by a pause (key up) from the next letter was a dot (or, as it sounded to the telegrapher, a "dit") and the key down quickly twice in succession was a dash (a "dah" or "dit-dit"). Each text character was represented by a dot, dash, or some combination.

What is syllable?
Informatively in linguistics is usually calculated per syllable, and it’s measured in bits, just like computer files. A syllable is a single, unbroken sound of a spoken (or written) word. Syllables usually contain a vowel and accompanying consonants. Sometimes syllables are referred to as the ‘beats’ of spoken languages.

The number of times you hear a vowel (a, e, I,o,u) in a word is equal to the number of syllables a word has. A good way to identify syllables is to think about whether you need to change your mouth shape to say the next bit of the word – the new syllable.

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The research
language lovers have long suspected that information-heavy languages- those that pack more information about tense, gender and speaker into smaller units, for example – move slowly to make up for their density of information, whereas information-light languages such as Italian can gallop along at a much faster pace, but until now, no one had data to prove it.
Scientists started with written texts from 17 languages, including English, Italian, Japanese and Vietnamese. They calculated the information density of each language in bits – the same unit that describes how quickly your cell phone, laptop, or computer modem transmits information. 

They found that Japanese, which has only 643 syllables, had an information density of about 5 buts per syllable, whereas English, with its 6949 syllables, had a density of just over 7 bits per syllable. 

Vietnamese, with its complex system of six tones (each of which can further differentiate a syllable), topped the charts at 8 bits per syllable.


Next, the researchers spent 3 years recruiting and recording 10 speakers- five men and five women- from 14 of their languages ( they used previous recordings for the other three languages) each participant read the loud identical passage that had been translated into their mother tongue. 

After noting how the speakers took to get through their reading the researcher calculated an average speech rate per language, measured in syllables/second.
Some languages were clearly faster than others: no surprise there. But when the researchers took their final step—multiplying this rate by the bit rate to find out how much information moved per second—they were shocked by the consistency of their results. 

No matter how fast or slow, how simple or complex, each language gravitated toward an average rate of 39.15 bits per second, they report today in Science Advances. In comparison, the world’s first computer modem (which came out in 1959) had a transfer rate of 110 bits per second, and the average home internet connection today has a transfer rate of 100 megabits per second (or 100 million bits).
“Sometimes interesting facts or rules are hidden in plain sight,” says study co-author François Pellegrino, an evolutionary linguist at the CNRS-sponsored Dynamique Du Language Laboratory at the University of Lyon in France. 

Because language science has focused so long on things like grammatical complexity, he says, this information transfer rate has been overlooked. The “crystal clear conclusion,” he adds, is that although languages differ widely in their encoding strategies, no one language is more efficient than another at delivering information.
The answer has everything to do with the limits imposed by our fragile biology—how much information our brains can take in—or produce—at any one time. Research in neuroscience supports that idea, with one recent paper suggesting an upper bound to auditory processing of 9 syllables per second in U.S. English.
Our brains are the bottleneck. But, instead of being limited by how quickly we can process information by listening, we’re likely limited by how quickly we can gather our thoughts. That’s because he says, the average person can listen to audio recordings sped up to about 120%—and still, have no problems with comprehension. “It really seems that the bottleneck is inputting the ideas together.”

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