A language previously unknown to linguists, and spoken by about 800 people has been documented in the mountains of northeast India. Researchers with National Geographic's Enduring Voices project recorded the Koro language for the first time.
The new language, Koro, is spoken by about a thousand people in Arunachal Pradesh , a state for which little linguistic data exist, due to restrictive entry policies, according to the linguists behind the findings.Koro belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family, which includes 400 languages such as Tibetan and Burmese. About 150 Tibeto-Burman languages are found in India, but a team with the National Geographic Society's Enduring Voices Project discovered that Koro was distinct from all other languages in its family. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
The linguists happened upon the language in 2008 while researching another two poorly known languages—Aka and Miji—which are spoken in one small district.While listening to these tongues, the researchers detected a third language, Koro.
The newly identified Koro tongue may be endangered: Only about 800 people are speakers—most of them older than 20—and the language hasn't been written down, Anderson noted.Harrison said 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.
“There’s a sort of a cultural invisibility; they’re culturally identical in what they wear, what they eat, the houses they live in.... They just happen to have a different word for everything,” Harrison said.
Koro also blends in because its speakers frequently marry Aka speakers (who number 4,000 to 6,000) and people who use another tongue, Miji (who number 6,000 to 8,000).Though they lack a common language, Koro speakers and Aka speakers insist there is no difference between them, Harrison noted.
The coexistence of separate languages between two integrated groups that don't acknowledge an ethnic difference is very unusual, the Living Tongues Institute's Anderson noted.
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