Sunday magazine round-up

It’s Sunday, so why don’t we look at what’s been in some of this week’s magazines?

The Economist and the New Statesman both had articles on Venezuela which came to surprisingly similar conclusions in some respects. Both magazines concluded Chávez’s treatment of the foreign oil companies drilling in Venezuela was reasonably justified. Odd that, given that New Statesman’s article was written by the highly left-wing John Pilger and The Economist is pretty much a standard-bearer for right-wing neo-liberal economics. I guess the one thing we can conclude is the oil companies had it coming.

New Statesman is an odd magazine that proves the rule that 90% of everything is rubbish. Apart from the Pilger piece, there were only a couple of stand-out pieces: new columnist Ziauddin Sardar’s look at Hizb ut-Tahrir; and Charlotte Raven’s review of Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? a book I suspect, despite my best attempts at sunniness and optimism, will be a must-have on my Christmas present list. Otherwise, pretty much everything in NS was as the book suggested. It’s the first time I’ve ever read it through, other than to skim bits in WH Smith, so I might try their trial offer (13 issues for £4.99) and see if it grows on me.

The ever-excellent Economist also had an intriguing article on language development, which raises as many questions, if not more, than it answers. The only thing more surprising was that New Scientist didn’t cover the study to perk up what was a relatively limp issue this week.

Last item of note this week was from The Guardian’s Bad Science, looking at why the BBC’s science coverage in the news is so embarrassingly bad. The particular story cited took my breath away in its science-fiction stupidity. How can they let this rubbish on the air?!

Oh well.

Another new sign language is born

Deaf people, left to their own devices, invent languages all by themselves it seems. You only have to look at the history of BSL and some of the Central American sign languages to see that. Nice article in the New Scientist on one of the latest sign languages created by the deaf, this one in the Middle East.

Japanese typos worse than English

If you thought English was a tricky language to spell, spare a thought for the poor Japanese. You try to write “I started living overseas this year” but end up saying “Shellfish started inhabiting my stomach this year” because all those kanji look so similar…

Work cut out for them

Some interesting language facts in LinuxUser & Developer this month:

India has 18 officially-recognised languages, and is believed to have 1652 mother tongues, of which 33 are spoken by over a hundred thousand people. Hindi has around 340 million speakers. Other languages like Bengali (70 million speakers), Assamese (13 million), Urdu (43 million), Punjabi (23 million), Telugu (66 million), Tamil (53 million), Marathi (62 million), Gujarati (40 million), Kannada (32 million), Malayalam (30 million) and Oriya (28 million) are also hugely important. Each of these languages has groups of speakers larger than the population of many a European country.

The UK loves languages

Apparently, despite perceptions to the contrary, we in the UK love languages. Topping the list of language lovers are Londoners, with 78% having studied another language.
I’m not convinced by this survey. I think there’s a world of difference between having studied a language and being able to speak it or be fluent in it. The news item also doesn’t say if there was any differentiation between people raised in the UK and people who had immigrated; I suspect an influx of people from sensible countries may have skewed the London figures.
Still, it shows that at least we want to speak other languages, even if it doesn’t necessarily prove that we can. I’m also intrigued by the nearly badly-named Cilt and the OCR’s “Asset Languages” scheme, which I might investigate further.