09 Sep 2011
According to Time, a group of researchers has brought science to bear on this. The short answer is that it is possible to calculate the information density of a given language on the level of the syllable and that density correlates inversely with the speed at which the language is spoken (so high density means low speed and low density means high speed). The interesting part of this is that the density/speed combination all seem to even out so that you are conveying roughly the same amount of information over a given period if you are speaking English or Japanese, even though they have very different information densities.
It seems like this could open up some very interesting questions about what sort of effects information density has in languages which have low density for verbal communication and high density for written communication (or the opposite). An example would be Japanese, which had the lowest information density of the studied languages (and the fastest speaking rate) but which has a very high density for written communications (Kanji are ideograms, in that each character represents not a sound but an idea, with the result that a very short sentence can have a lot of information packed in). Would languages like Japanese tend towards different preferences for communication than English (which I believe would have the opposite correlation between oral and written communication)?
Also, there is some interesting conversation going on around this study on Reddit.