Fruchtenstein wrote:Human speech may have a universal transmission rate: 39 bits per second
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.
It's an interesting study!
Fruchtenstein wrote:Makes sense, IMHO. The fastest speakers I've heard were Finnish, with their looooong multi-syllable words. On the other hand, French speakers drop so many written syllables that they have more than enough time to pronounce the remainder quite clearly.
Finnish was one of the languages in the study, and is not one of the fastest. It has long multisyllablic words, but those words convey information that would be conveyed in multiple words in many other languages. (The long words are generally built from fairly short roots and affixes; in languages that don't combine them into long multisyllabic words, the same meaning is still conveyed in multiple syllables, just strung out among several words.)Here is more information about the study itselfThis article
spells out some of the aspects of the study that point to the needed for more research:
The 17 languages Pellegrino and his colleagues analyzed in this paper are an impressive haul, but they certainly don’t represent the full range of linguistic diversity on Earth, and they completely leave out the languages of Africa, the Americas, and Australia and the Pacific islands.
The new study also relies on speech-rate data from just 10 speakers per language, all young and educated. Pellegrino isn’t too concerned about his sample size, he says, because the team’s statistical analysis found that the language subjects were speaking had a much larger impact on their speed than their individual identities did.
There’s also the question of whether the speed-efficiency trade-off would hold in spontaneous conversations, not just for text read aloud. Both Pellegrino and Futrell predict that the average information rate for casual speech would be lower than 39 bits per second, but it would still be roughly the same across languages.
The part in the original article you posted about processing time being the "bottleneck" is interesting. People can process what they hear faster than people can speak.
The article doesn't mention this as far as I saw, but of course this will only apply for listeners and speakers who are fluent in the language. When a person is learning a new language and people seem to be speaking too fast, that's only because their processing time for that language isn't up to speed yet. They may be mentally translating to another language, searching for words, relying on context to fill in gaps, etc. which take additional time.
I have known for years that the best way to improve my listening comprehension in a language is to read, read, read... the more I read, the faster I get at reading in a particular language, my mental processing time for that language speeds up, and eventually I'm reading at a speed that is roughly equivalent to spoken language - at that point I can suddenly understand spoken language much more easily. This is not what the study is about though - the processing time referred to in the study refers to how quickly the speakers
can process the information and speak it.