The Wall Street Journal reported today on the findings of a 2008 linguistic expedition to Arunachal Pradesh, the most northeastern state of India. In a mountainous region already populated with a plethora of other spoken tongues, researches claim to have linguistic evidence of yet a wholly new language called Koro. If true, it’s an astonishing discovery — and bittersweet. Like so many other languages of the world, Koro is likely endangered; the younger members of this speech community are learning more standard languages in school (Hindi and English) and are not speaking Koro in their villages. The Journal article states there are about 800 living speakers of Koro.
Koro has been identified as a member of the Tibeto-Burman subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan language family. It does not exist in a written form, but presumably the linguists who have made the recordings of Koro speakers have transcribed these. The linguistic details of Koro are to appear in an upcoming volume of the journal Indian Linguistics. There will also be an online dictionary of the language available at some point. If you go to the WSJ article (the link above) there are several audio recordings of basic sentences in Koro — it’s interesting to hear them. The recordings and research were conducted as part of National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project.
It has been estimated that within this century as many as half the 6,909 known human languages will become extinct; many of them exist in isolated, small speech communities. The topics of language birth and language death will be the subject of a future post.