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Is Japanese the Fastest-Sounding Language?

A page from the Man'yōshū, the oldest anthology of classical Japanese poetry

Communication is the key to leading a life like it is meant to be. It does not matter if you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert; everybody needs to communicate with another human being at least once during the day. Now while you can opt non-verbal ways to communicate with other people, communicating using words is by far the most used method.

Have you ever been to a place where you are clueless about the local language, and the locals do not speak your language? It is a painful situation to be in. We, as humans, require words and phrases and sentences to understand each other. Though non-verbal communication is termed as being an integral part of our daily communication, with the advent of mobile phones, most of us are hardly looking up from our screens to notice the non-verbal cues. Thus, language is the key.

Are All the Languages Equal?

The answer to this is simply NO; not all the languages are equal. No matter how idealistic and perfect they might sound, languages are as different as day and night. Languages are representatives of cultures. Though not confined, languages are associated with different cultures of various geographic regions.

They are also arbitrary – meaning they are subjective to whoever comes up with it or evolves it. This brings us to another characteristic of languages, and that is evolution. Languages are always evolving – absorbing words from similar or other inspiring languages.

What is the Information Rate of a Language?

Accepting that all the languages are distinctive, gives rise to an important notion that different languages have different levels of information rate. The information rate is a measurement of how comprehensible a language is. It is a quantitative measure obtained by taking the product of how information-dense any language is and what is its syllable rate. This information rate is used to determine how speedy-sounding any language is.

The information density refers to the amount of information conveyed. For instance, if we compare English and Japanese, in English, a speaker says the same thing in fewer words as compared to a Japanese speaker.

In short, if you try saying the same thing in both these languages, saying it in English will require lesser words than in Japanese. On the other hand, the syllable rate is referred to as the number of syllables used and spoken in one second.

Japanese is the Fastest-Sounding Language

Though views can vary according to the perspectives of speakers of various languages, research conducted by the University of Lyon published in the Journal of Language in 2011 provides a comprehensive finding of the fastest-sounding language. The researchers went over texts from eight different languages, including Mandarin, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, English, and Vietnamese.

They utilized the same texts in the above-stated languages and compared the syllable rates and information density of all the languages. The results found that the Japanese language has the lowest information density rate, while English has the highest. Also, the Japanese language has the fastest syllable rate as opposed to Mandarin.

The research highlighted a trend that defines the link between the low information density of the Japanese language and its high syllable rate. A language that has a high information density implies that more can be said and implied with fewer words. For instance, the word melancholy in the English language does not only refer to sadness but also expresses the whole set of feelings of loneliness, longing, sadness, and maybe, depression.

The fact that one word in the English language can imply a whole range of meanings indicates that numerous syllables or words are not needed to express something. On the contrary, the Japanese language has a very low information density (0.49), which is why to express a whole range of these melancholic emotions, more words are required. Thus, the findings indicated that the Japanese language has a high syllable rate, which makes it the fastest-sounding language in the world.

Some Examples Regarding Why Japanese is the Fastest-Sounding Language

  • Verbs

Verbs are an integral component of spoken as well as written language. As opposed to the English language, where the verbs mostly consist of a maximum of two syllables, for instance, to eat and to work, the Japanese language has at least three syllables in each of their verbs. For example, consider the words demasu and mimasu.

These verbs consist of three syllables. Sentences have to contain verbs to make sense. Therefore, this increases the syllable count of the Japanese language; thus, spiking the speed of the language.

  • More Words Required to Express Themselves

The Japanese language is quite indirect. It means that one has to speak a lot of words to get to the point. Moreover, it is considered a norm not to speak directly and instead take your time to reach the point of conversation. Thus, the Japanese language sounds fast because the native speakers use a lot of words.

  • Short Range of Syllables

Thirdly, the Japanese language has a short range of syllables (only 416) as compared to the English language (7931). This implies that you are most likely to run out of words quickly. Therefore, you will find numerous homonyms in the Japanese language. Homonyms are words that spell and sound the same but have different meanings. This, of course, increases the likelihood of increased usage of words to express the point when using the Japanese language.

Implications for the Learners of Japanese Language

While learning is purely subjective and varies from person to person, some basic guidelines remain the same for all. What does the fact that Japanese is the fastest-sounding language has to do with learning this language? Well, for one, for English speakers learning Japanese, speed should also matter. You should learn to work on your conversation speed along with the vocabulary.

Final Words

Languages are like personalities – they come with their own sets of characteristics. Language learning becomes easier if you understand its origin and inspiration. Japanese is the fastest-sounding language with a low rate of information density. It implies that there are not as many words to learn in Japanese as there are in the English language.

Nevertheless, that does not mean the Japanese language is not adequate in expression. It just implies that it requires more words to express something that can be said in fewer words using the English language.

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