Exploring the Human Language Niche: Do languages regulate their information rate?

Freitag, 20. April 2018, 10:15 Uhr bis 11:45 Uhr

François PELLEGRINO (CNRS & University of Lyon, ‘Dynamics of Language’ Laboratory, France)

Human language is one of a kind in the realm of natural communication systems. Reaching higher levels of complexity and creativity than other animal communication systems, it is both limited to our species and ubiquitous around the world, with a large level of intraspecific diversity in almost every aspect. This can be seen as a nested niche construction process, where each language co-evolves within its own "local" environment, while at the same time all languages pertain to a “global” species-specific communication niche. In a previous study, we had made the hypothesis that despite their differences, languages would enable their speakers to reach similar average rates of information transmission (Pellegrino, Coupé & Marsico, 2011). In other words, we hypothesized that our species-specific communication niche features an optimal information rate. In today’s presentation, I will show the results of a cross-linguistic and quantitative assessment of this proposition. I will first illustrate the stark differences existing among 17 languages in terms of syllabic information (in Shannon’s sense) and speech rate. I will then show how these dimensions interact and suggest the existence of an attractor in terms of information rate. Finally, I will discuss these results in light of recent results in neurocognition, and especially on the relationship between speech rhythms and cortical oscillations.
Reference: Pellegrino, François, Christophe Coupé, and Egidio Marsico. 2011. "Across-language perspective on speech information rate." Language 87.3: 539-558.

MitFrançois Pellegrino
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