Language and fuzzy animals. You may have heard in the news this week that linguists have discovered a new language. I am more flabbergasted at the press it’s got than at the “discovery” itself. After all, we don’t know how many languages there are in the world; there are no accurate global catalogues (though there are a few inaccurate or partial ones). The “discovery” occurred in 2008 and is now receiving coverage which coincides with the release of a new book (written by the discoverers).

The digest version, in case you missed it, is that Koro is spoken by 800-1200 people in Arunachal Pradesh (in Northern India). While it was previously thought to be very closely related to Hruso (or the same language), work in 2008 showed that it is not only a distinct language, but one that it likely to have diverged from other related languages quite a long time ago. The related languages are known as “Tibeto-Burman” languages, because the family includes Tibetan and Burmese, as well as quite a few languages in India and other countries in the region. This is cool.

The coverage is entertainingly varied and vivid. David Harrison and Greg Anderson forded “surging rivers” on bamboo rafts to discover “a find as rare and any endangered species.” Sometimes the language is totally “unlike any other encountered in history.” In other (more accurate) reports, it’s more different from the languages it was previously thought to be very similar to, but still a branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family. Given how much of these articles is recycled content from an original press release, it’s really kind of cool how many distinct versions of the “truth” arise. That we can blame on the media machine, perhaps.

It’s easy to criticise both the science reporting and the way in which the duo go about their work. But the work isn’t the point. The point is the publicity for endangered languages, language diversity, and cool stuff that linguists get to do as part of their research. Best of all, it means that people have more of an idea that “linguist” isn’t the same thing as “translator” or “someone who writes irritating articles on declining grammar to the local paper.”  It’s a shame, though, that there’s a bit of an Indiana Jones trope in the reporting. All that’s lacking is a very tall, Nordic-looking blonde in a bikini and impractical heels. (Read the rest of this post over at Crikey’s language blog Fully Sic.) — Clare Bowern

Ten snares Negus. As many of you may have read over the weekend, George Negus has been signed to front the national Ten News 6pm show that is set to launch next year. I’d suggest that very few people were surprised at the announcement of Negus taking on the role. He’s been a familiar face on The 7PM Project over the past year, giving that show a stronger sense of news credibility.

If this show lives up to its promise, Ten may quite possibly be set to launch the country’s premier news program. Half an hour each night of serious national and international news, legitimate current affair reportage, and interviews. This could be Australia’s equivalent to the PBS News Hour. Only with a budget and the possibility that people will actually tune in…

…That said, it’s all very good and well for Ten to be launching this news service, but the real question is whether it will be of interest to viewers. Are audiences looking for a harder edged, more thoughtful news service at 6pm? Let alone on one of the commercial channels? Media pundits and news enthusiasts often complain at the lowest-common denominator approach taken by the FTA news and current affairs shows, but they do rate. This will be the test to see if a more substantial service can attain a significant viewing audience. (Read the rest of this post at Crikey’s TV blog White Noise) — Dan Barrett

India gets with the Times, a racier red-top

“Why should such a hallowed brand pander to voyeurism? The answer lies in the changing sexual mores of the country, and more importantly, in the crushing competition in the media sector.” — The Guardian

iPad rival hooks some newsrooms

“Several major news organizations are lining up behind a new tablet device from Samsung Electronics Co. built on Google Inc. software, in order to broaden mobile readership beyond owners of Apple Inc. popular iPad.” — Wall Street Journal

The digital age kills the picture book, too

“Picture books are so unpopular these days at the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Mass., that employees there are used to placing new copies on the shelves, watching them languish and then returning them to the publisher.” — New York Times

Size counts — so make it shorter

“Content creators should focus on making the messages shorter not longer. So says the man who has inspired thousands of people around the world into the film, TV and advertising industries, Tropfest founder John Polson.” — The Australian

Reading men the new magazine battleground

“Among the reasons that the non-traditional media are thriving is that men are big fans of going online to watch video and read sports and news articles. Still, the appeal of print as a medium remains, as evidenced by start-ups of magazines aimed at men.” — New York Times

Author: avoid writing at all costs

“I’m not trying to be twee here, I promise, or give that greeting-card-sweet writing advice that causes me to twitch and strike my teeth together, but I honestly believe that you should go ‘into’ writing only if you feel you have no choice — like you can’t afford to be anything else.” — Maureen Johnson Books

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey