Languages transmit information at 39 bits/second


Faster-spoken languages may be packing lesser amount of information in any given minute of speech, according to a study. Different languages have different speeds at which words and sentences can be uttered. However, according to the study published in the journal Science Advances, the languages transmit information at the same rate of about 39 bits per second, irrespective of how quickly or slowly they are spoken.


An international team of researchers, including those from the University of Lyon in France, tested the long held hypothesis that languages in which more information — about tense, gender etc — is packed into smaller units, are spoken slowly to make up for their density of information.

They tested this by recruiting 10 subjects (five men and five women) speaking 14 different languages, and asking them to read texts translated into their corresponding languages.

The researchers noted the density of information packed in any given minute of their speeches, which they calculated in bits — the unit of digital information.

The study found that Japanese — which has only 643 syllables — had a density of about 5 bits of information per syllable while English, with its 6,949 syllables, had a density of just over 7 bits per syllable. Vietnamese topped at 8 bits per syllable.

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While some languages were uttered faster than others, multiplying their speed by the bit rate revealed that no matter how fast or slow, how simple or complex, each language had an average transmission rate of 39.15 bits per second.

The reason for this, the researchers believe, is due to limits imposed on the amount of information one’s brains can take in, or produce, at any given time.

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