Here’s an interesting article in which researchers measured the amount of information per second conveyed by speakers of different languages and found that it tends to be the same, with speakers speeding up or slowing down depending on the “density” of the language. It appears to be regulated by how fast people can formulate their thoughts, because people can easily listen faster.
This is an interesting article. Anecdotally, I agree with the hypothesis that speed is limited by our ability to formulate thoughts, and not by comprehension ability. For example, I can listen to lectures in English at 2x speed with 100% comprehension (it took a bit of getting used to but was not so difficult). But I often find myself limited in speaking speed by my ability to formulate thoughts (unless I’m really focused on firing off a long argument as quickly as possible).
This makes me wonder why some languages have much higher rates of syllables per second, and whether this means that a speaker has to do more work to convey the same information.
Yes, very interesting
Btw: I first read about this when I discovered an article about this finding in my Greek feed on LingQ. That’s what compelling input is
My target language, Russian, tends to have longer words than English, but English frequently requires more, shorter, words to say the same thing. I always thought that a kind of balance was achieved because of that, with syllables coming at the same rate. It’s intriguing that the research says that the rate of syllables actually changes so that the information rate remains the same.
It’s no surprise that people can listen faster – competent readers ingest information much faster than anyone can talk. (It’s frustrating but not surprising that I cannot read Russian as fast as I can English.) I frequently listen to YT videos at 125% or 150%, especially if they’re of the “talking head” sort.
I’ve thought this same thing about English vs Russian. It would be cool to see an information density graph of information vs number of letters. Adding some extra letters for declensions usually just replaces a small word like “to” or “with”. Also, even though Russian words are longer, the sentences usually have less words.