Babel – a new language magazine

A brief post to direct your attention to Babel – The language magazine, a new popular-linguistics publication from the University of Huddersfield in the UK. There are to be four issues a year. From the introduction by editors Lesley Jeffries and Dan McIntyre:

One of the reasons that language is so fascinating is that it’s something we all share. And just as everyone uses language, so too does everyone have an opinion about it. But if we want real answers to questions about language then we need the insights of linguistics. Babel aims to provide these.

Babel promises to address “issues relating to many different human languages”, and will have regular items such as feature articles of general interest, biographies of influential thinkers, explanations of technical terms, and more.

Issue one, which is available for free download (PDF, 3.11 MB), has features on forensic speech science (a branch of forensic linguistics), the problems and possibilities of intergalactic communication, politeness practices in Chinese, and how the norms of English as a global lingua franca are changing.

There are also book reviews, games, short news items, a biography of H. Paul Grice, and a glossary of linguistics under ‘A’ (including anaphora, happily). I’ve only browsed it so far, but I’ll read it from cover to cover before the weekend.

Via David Crystal, who, in more good news, is the magazine’s linguistic consultant.

8 Responses to Babel – a new language magazine

  1. Laura Payne says:

    How exciting; I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for calling this new publication to my attention.

  2. Stan says:

    My pleasure, Laura; I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. There’s been surprisingly little coverage of the news in the language-blogging community.

  3. alexmccrae1546 says:

    I was majorly impressed with the first-issue of “Babel”s very clean, very readable, crisp, elegant, and visually engaging layout. Great use of white space, interesting breaking up of the page elements, plus an eye-catching mix of graphics. Top-notch art direction here, and the content, i.e., articles, ain’t too shabby either.

    I’ve already read a couple of articles, and hope to continue to follow the magazine’s fortunes…. hopefully onward and upward…. kinda like the Tower of Babel itself.

    Always loved that late-medieval period painting of the ‘Tower’ by the brilliant Flemish master, Breugel. Great art truly does stand the test of time.

  4. Stan says:

    Alex: Yes, I was impressed too. I finally got around to reading the rest, and enjoyed it very much. Bruegel’s Tower of Babel is beautiful; he painted it at least twice, as far as I know. You might be interested in the first links in this old set: scores of medieval and modern images of the Tower.

    • alexmccrae1546 says:


      Thanks for that “this old set” link to the “Babelstone” blog. Very illuminating.

      I had no idea that the biblically-rooted Tower of Babel narrative had such a major pull on the imaginations of so many mediaeval European painters, particular several 16th century Flemish masters. (The story clearly resonates with many artists, scholars and lay persons, to this very day.)

      Your suspicion that Pieter Bruegel had painted at least two renditions of ‘The Tower’ seems to be an accurate one, yet his preoccupation w/ this strange, awe-inspiring ‘edifice’ clearly pales relative to some of his other talented Flemish artistic contemporaries; namely Hendrick van Cleve (1525-1589) and Lucas van Valckenborsch (1535-1597), who rendered an astounding number of fanciful interpretations of ‘The Tower’.
      (To say these guys were kind of fixated on the compelling allegorical narrative of ‘The Tower’ would be an understatement.)

      Just on the “Babelstone” blog alone, we find offered fourteen different, immaculately detailed versions of ‘The Tower’ painted by each of the two latter, aforementioned Flemish artist—twenty-eight in all.

      I’d be curious to know if Bruegel’s early renditions had majorly influenced his fellow Flemish painting peers, since most of the late-mediaeval versions of ‘the Tower’ theme have a distinct Bruegel-esque ‘feel’ about them.

      Interestingly, I could very well have seen the Bruegel ‘Tower’ image, in the flesh, (or in the oils?) that appears on the cover of the debut issue of “Babel”, way back in December of 1976, when I visited the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna (where this painting still resides). I recall there were so many incredible art works in the venerable museum’s vast collection(s) that I tried to take in that day, that my memory of this particular piece has sadly faded.*

      *I Do, however, still vividly recall my one-and-only viewing of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of (Earthly) Delights” tryptic at Madrid’s Prado Museum in summer of 1972. Truly mind-boggling.

  5. I just finished reading the PDF.

    My overall impression is that each article (and therefore the entire magazine) should have been at least twice its length. Most of the contents are exactly what you’d expect if someone took some very well-written articles about language, removed the bodies, and printed only the introductions and conclusions. I can often pinpoint the precise moment where the tone changes from “introduction” to “conclusion” with nothing in between.

    The How to speak Venusian article dealt with the space restriction differently: by condensing the material sometimes to the point of turning plot summaries into non-sequiturs. (Incidentally, I have a copy of China Mieville’s Embassytown — which is one of the books described — but find it completely unreadable. I think Mieville’s style as an author suits people who read fiction for content rather than form, because his strengths lie much more in ideas than in their presentation. But anyway, I’m getting diverted.)

    The forensic linguistics article uses the ugly “s/he” construction more than once to avoid a singular they. At first this seemed particularly strange for a language magazine (which, almost by definition, is staffed by people who know there’s nothing wrong with singular they). But on reflection, I think it’s almost certainly an artifact of the magazine not having a strict style guide. Precisely because it’s a language magazine, the publishers want the authors’ individual styles to shine — and so if just one author prefers to “s/he” instead of “they”, well then, that’s what is printed. (I haven’t checked for instances of singular they in other articles.)

    One oddity I notice on the contents page is that the Lives in Language column is listed with the name of the author, not that of the person with the life (H. Paul Grice, in this case), which would be more appropriate. I’m not sure why they did that.

  6. Stan says:

    Adrian: It is a rather short magazine; maybe later issues will be bulkier now that it’s up and running. I was surprised by the use of s/he as well: I see it so rarely nowadays, and find it a slightly distracting curio. And I could have done with fewer exclamation-marked references to CSI in the forensic speech article. But these are trivial complaints: I think the magazine did the essential stuff well, and I wish them luck.

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