Imparting information is language's most important function – and a recent study published in Language rates just how efficient English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin-Chinese and German are at doing just that.

Three French linguists at the University of Lyon recorded 59 people, divided equally among men and half, reading five-sentence texts identical in meaning at a normal speed in their mother tongue. Then they computer-edited out the pauses and counted syllables and information per time unit and language. The goal was to draw conclusions about how fast a specific density of information could be communicated in the seven languages.

The result? Some languages are spoken faster than others. For example, Japanese speakers say eight syllables per second, whereas Mandarin Chinese get in only five. But regardless, a faster tempo in no way implied faster transmission of information.

Linguistics professor Gertraud Fenk-Oczlon of the University of Klagenfurt (Austria) said she was not surprised by the result. In 2010, using a different methodology, she conducted a similar study using 51 languages.

All researchers found that no matter how slow a language is, the complexity of syllables means that information is imparted as quickly as it is in faster languages. Thus, for example, a slow and very complex language like German manages to rate as slightly more efficient than fast-paced Japanese. And it comes in third after English, which garnered first place, and Chinese, which came in second.

To the surprise of the researchers, however, differences in efficiency were only minimal.

Read the full story in German by Antonia zu Knyphausen            

Photo - Demi-Brooke

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