A chart that proves how similar languages ​​are around the world

It’s not just your imagination. Spanish and Japanese speakers speak rapidly, squeezing an average of eight full syllables in each second of each speech. Meanwhile, English averages closer to six in the US, while Hungarian is closer to five.

But as it turns out, this rate of speech is largely irrelevant. Because basically, no matter how fast or slow the world’s languages ​​were, they evolved to deliver the same amount of measurable information each second: about 39 bits.

It’s a finding that you can appreciate more by studying the sharp graph below. (they were recently rediscovered FlowingDataAlthough they are basically . from research published in science advance in 2019)

[Image: Christophe Coupé, Yoon Mi Oh, Dan Dediu, François Pellegrino/Science Advances]

On the left, you see how fast people say the word around the world. And on the right, you see a column of the actual information rate of this communication. While the left column has incredible variation because some languages ​​are spoken faster than others, the right column lines up because they are averaged to hold the same measurable information per second.

How did scientists find out? He translated the same written passage into 17 different languages ​​as closely as possible. The researchers then recorded native speakers around the world reciting these passages.

“If you record just one person in each language, they may be slow or fast speakers,” says Christoph Coupe, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong who co-authored the paper. “But if you take several people and put them in similar conditions with a shared baseline, you calculate and average the value . . . you understand? It’s not just about speech rate; it’s about speech rate.” Initiation is about density. When you cross the two, you find that there is some equilibrium in the information rate, which is what really matters.”

Another way to think about it: People all over the world, speaking differently formed languages, read their passages at almost the same time.

Coupe explains that as clear and logical as this conclusion may sound, it has been a revolutionary finding for the linguistics community since his team began publishing similar findings nearly a decade ago. At the turn of the 19th century, Eurocentrism plagued researchers who believed that the success of Chinese civilization lay with their seemingly simple speech—which largely consisted of short syllables and short words with a low-back syntax.

Of course now we know that European ears weren’t appreciating Tonal Variations That Differentiate Many Chinese Words, But even the basis of this argument was based on racism, which overtook logic.

“In the end the question is, are all languages ​​equally dominant or not?” Coupe says.

The truth is that cultures around the world have naturally formed their own distinctive attitudes towards language. And from what we can tell, they are equally effective. , , Even though the pronunciation of different words is not equally sharp, even for native speakers.

In Japan, words are constructed with a consonant-then-vowel cadence that moves rapidly through one’s mouth, while in Eastern Europe, vowels are strung together in longer sequences that take longer to open the tongue. .

“I’ll give you a word in Serbian: strelgen, That’s five consonants in a row!” Coupe adds, adding that strelgen Translates into English a two-letter word “hornet”. “So the complexity is high [in Serbian]But you generate words at a slow pace.”

As all of these sounds make their way into actual spoken communication, the disparate perspective becomes out of the ordinary. A reasonable, but almost impossible to prove, conjecture is that cultures around the world independently created languages ​​that all sit within a sweet spot of our brain’s processing power. We like to receive verbal information at 39 bits every second, no matter what that information is. (How much is 39 bits? It’s a complicated concept to grok outside of computer science. Technically it means yes or no 39 separate pieces of information,” but of course, it’s about the meaning of sentences and texts. doesn’t translate very well,” Coupe says.)

There are some caveats to the research. While Coupe’s team measured the actual factual information expressed in fragments, it is fair to say that communication is about much more than the sharing of quantitative data. When I ask Coupe about metrics that his study didn’t measure—elements that might express sarcasm, love, or less-quantitative expressions—he admits that the best practices in linguistics are still lacking.

“As much as possible, what you really want to access is Meaning, The problem is that it is not easy to capture meaning with numbers,” he says. “The information does not have a true meaning . . . although they are closely related.”

They also noted that while language information rates are similar around the world, research has consistently found that men speak faster than women. Does this mean that men are faster thinkers than women? No, as Coupe’s previous research showed, men read passages faster than women. But when men and women read silently in their minds, they read at the same speed.

“It’s not that women are worse readers or speakers,” Coupe says. ,[Instead]There are some interesting cultural influences and factors at hand.”

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