seven bolls of sapo, a lick of lime, two spurts of fussfor, threefurts of sulph, a shake o’shouker, doze grains of migniss and a mesfull of midcap pitchies


[S]ome languages—such as Japanese, Basque, and Italian—are spoken more quickly than others. […]

Linguists have spent more time studying not just speech rate, but the effort a speaker has to exert to get a message across to a listener. By calculating how much information every syllable in a language conveys, it’s possible to compare the “efficiency” of different languages. And a study published today in Science Advances found that more efficient languages tend to be spoken more slowly. In other words, no matter how quickly speakers chatter, the rate of information they’re transmitting is roughly the same across languages.

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. If you and I are discussing dinosaurs, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear me rattle off the names of my favorite species. But if a stranger walks up to you on the street and announces, “Diplodocus!” it’s unexpected. It narrows the scope of possible conversation topics greatly and is therefore highly informative.

{ The Atlantic | Continue reading }

image { Six soap bubbles inside one another, from The Windsor Magazine, 1902 }