Mysterious language spoken by less than 1000 people, discovered in remote villageS

A group of linguists doing research in northeastern India have accidentally stumbled across the linguistics equivalent of a rare jewel: Koro, a language completely unlike others in the region, spoken by only a tiny number of people.

The researchers had journeyed to the remote region trying to find native speakers of various small languages in the area, in order to record them before these languages die out. Linguists estimate that one language of the roughly 7,000 recorded dies out every few weeks.

According to the New York Times:

When the three researchers reached Kichang, they went door to door asking people to speak their native tongue - not a strenuous undertaking in a village of only four bamboo houses set on stilts. The people live by raising pigs and growing oranges, rice and barley. They share a subsistence economy and a culture with others in the region who speak Aka, or Miji, another somewhat common language.

On the veranda at one house, the linguists heard a young woman named Kachim telling her life story in Koro. She was sold as a child bride, was unhappy in her adopted village and had to overcome hardships before eventually making peace with her new life.

Listening, the researchers at first suspected Koro to be a dialect of Aka, but its words, syntax and sounds were entirely different. Few words in Koro were the same as in Aka: mountain in Aka is "phu," but "nggo" in Koro; pig in Aka is "vo," but in Koro "lele." The two languages share only 9 percent of their vocabulary.

It turns out the language is related to Tibetan and Burmese. Interestingly, it's spoken by people who consider themselves to be ethnically the same as their Aka-speaking neighbors. The researchers note that it's very unusual to find such dissimilar native languages shared by one ethnic group.

How did this tiny language arrive in the region, and flourish for so long without discovery? As of yet, the linguists have no answers.

Read the rest of the article to find out about the intrepid adventures of linguists, armed only with recording equipment, who visit "hot spots of threatened languages" throughout the world.

via New York Times

Photo by Chris Rainier