Thursday, October 7, 2010

Newsy: Researchers Discover New Language 'Koro'

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Researchers David Harrison and Gregory Anderson discovered a new language while visiting a remote village in Northeast India.

There are currently 6909 official living languages in the world. When linguists David Harrison and Gregory Anderson travelled to India to document indigenous languages, they weren’t planning to add another one to the list. But they ended up doing just that.

The researchers travelled to a remote village in Northeast India to work with the Aka people to expand the documentation of their language. When they got there, they had a surprise discovery waiting for them: “When we began talking to the Aka people, they said there’s another dialect of our language. If you go down to this other village, you’ll hear this other dialect. We went down to the village and sat down with the speaker, and after hearing just a few words of the language, which turned out to be Koro, we realized it wasn’t a dialect, it was completely different in every possible way.” (YouTube / FordCochran)

Harrison said in the LA Times, Koro had not yet been discovered because the speakers are culturally identical to the other people in the region: “The speakers of Koro had remained invisible to outside observers because their bright red garments, the rice beer they made and other details of their lives seemed no different from that of the speakers of Aka, the socially dominant language in the region.”

CNN reports comparing Koro to the other languages of the region is like comparing English to Japanese. Koro shares more similarities with tongues spoken in farther eastern Asia. The linguists speculate the language could have been brought over by slaves: “Aka is the traditional language of the region's historic slave traders, and they hypothesized that Koro may have sprung from the slaves; though they said more study is needed to determine the origin.”

Today only 800 people are believed to speak Koro. There are no speakers under 20 and many children of Koro speakers are opting for Hindi or English—meaning the language faces extinction. Harrison says losing the language could mean losing valuable information about the region: “It contains very sophisticated knowledge that these people possess about this valley, the ecosystems, the animals, the plants, how they survived here, how they adapted. So if they switch over to another language, a lot of that knowledge will simply be lost.” (National Geographic)

The expedition was conducted as part of the National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project. The project tries to preserve poorly understood and indigenous people by documenting the languages and cultures within them.

Writer: Grace Meiners


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