Researchers discover koro, a previously unknown language

Location of the Arunachal Pradesh state in northeastern India, where National Geographic discovered speakers of the "new" koro language.

The yellow marks Arunachal Pradesh in India, where koro was discovered among more than 100 other languages. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Immanuel Giel/Wikipedia)

The discovery of language previously unknown to the world at large is a momentous occasion. The window of opportunity to record that expression of human culture is limited at best. National Geographic’s “Enduring Voices” project has opened the window for koro, a language spoken by about 800 people in India’s northeastern-most state, Arunachal Pradesh, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In the foothills of the Himalayas lies koro

English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote that “Language is the armory of the human mind, and at once contains the trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conquest.” Coleridge no doubt knew the import of his words, as conquered peoples and dead languages litter human history.

Two researchers discovered koro in about a dozen hunter-gatherer villages in the Arunachal Pradesh region of India. More than 120 languages are spoken in the state. According to Dr. Gregory Anderson of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, koro is “quite distinct on every level — the sound, the words (and) the sentence structure.” Koro deals with reality in ways very different than English. The ways in which elements of the natural world are codified in koro are untranslatable in a “major” world language, says Anderson. Koro also has no written form, which makes dissemination more difficult.

Further details of koro will be published soon in the journal Indian Linguistics.

There are nearly 7,000 known languages spoken on Earth

Experts predict that of the nearly 7,000 known languages spoken today, roughly half will die before the 21st century is complete. Estimates indicate that thousands of languages have already perished over the course of human history. It is also estimated that the last known fluent speaker of a language dies every two weeks, writes the WSJ. In the case of koro, the more that youth go off to schools where only Hindi and English are spoken (a common occurrence), the more likely koro is to fade quickly.


Wall Street Journal

More on the National Geographic “Enduring Voices” project

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