Friday, June 17, 2011

KORO: India’s Hidden Language

Although hard to believe, researchers are still able to discover new languages that only a few hundreds of people speak. Last year, Gregory Anderson, director and researcher for the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages unveiled a new language called Koro that belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family. Koro was discovered by the team lead by Anderson in a remote northeastern region of India in 2008.

Anderson said that Koro, which is undocumented and completely unrecognized, is spoken by less than 1,200 people belonging to communities living in the remote region of Arunachal Pradesh in India. According to Anderson, Koro is “quite distinct on every level – the sound, the words, the sentence structure.” This newly discovered language is unrecorded and remains unwritten.

Koro has basic vocabulary words including unique terms for parts of the body and for numbers. The linguistic team lead by Anderson recorded and translated much of the newly discovered language. By means of the English alphabet, the team translated Koro in written form. Some of the Koro words were dougrey, meaning “star”, ala or “moon” and mugba, which means “cloud.”

When the researchers began documenting the language, they thought it was a dialect of one of the tribal communities in the region known as Aka because most Koro speakers belonged to this community. Aka is a language spoken by a few thousand people in the region. The team literally stumbled upon Koro. They were initially studying Aka when they went to Arunachal Pradesh. Team member and Swarthmore College’s associate professor of linguistics David Harrison said that Koro was not known even to the government of India.

Upon investigation, researchers discovered that the linguistic structure and the vocabulary of Koro were very distinct from Aka. The two languages share roughly only 9% of their vocabulary. It’s like English and Russian.

The team of researchers lead by Anderson speculated that Koro may have come from a community of people who in the past were enslaved then brought to the north-eastern region of India. Even as Koro speakers integrated with the new culture, they were able to keep their language intact. Researchers are eager to discover more about the language of Koro especially when it ended up submerged within the language of Aka. They want to know exactly how the language survived given that Koro speakers live within another community.

Speakers of Koro were unaware that they were speaking a distinctive language. According to Harrison, aside from Koro, they also speak Aka, Hindi and even English. There is concern that Koro may soon disappear like other languages that are now extinct because very few young people speak this language.

With the discovery of this new language, the number of languages known to researchers worldwide is now 6,909. Since many of these languages are either extinct or nearing extinction, discovering a new language like Koro leaves researchers to believe that there are more undiscovered languages in other parts of the world.

References:, DigitalJournal,,,

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