Photo of a mouth.
The spoken-only language of Koro has been unknown to the world until now. CC by nyki_m/Flickr

Linguists look at the discovery of a new language as a Christian follower would view the discovery of a new Eden. Upon discovery, however, relatively quick work must be done to ensure that a dying language is not allowed to simply vanish. In the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, scientists from the National Geographic “Enduring Voices” project are going through that very process right now with Koro, a language spoken by about 800 people.

Foothills of Himalayas speak 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 importance 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.” English and Koro are different because of the ways reality is discussed. The elements of the natural world in Koro are hard to explain. Anderson says they can’t be translated into any of the “major” world languages. Koro doesn’t have a written form, and dissemination is harder because of that. Further details of Koro will be published soon in the journal Indian Linguistics.

7,000 languages are known on Earth at present

Before the 21st century is over, about half of the 7,000 known languages on the earth will die, according to experts. Estimates indicate that thousands of languages have already perished over the course of human history. Every two weeks another person who is the last known fluent speaker of his or her language dies, reports WSJ. Koro is likely to go away quickly, considering youth in that area are increasingly sent to schools where Hindi and English are the only spoken languages.

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