Published October 5, 2010
Koro, a language previously unknown to linguists, has been documented in the mountains of northeastern India. Researchers with National Geographic's Enduring Voices project recorded the language—spoken by only about 800 people—for the first time.
© 2010 National Geographic
Before this trip to a remote part of northeast India, there were 6,909 living languages known to scientists.
Now there is one more.
National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project brought linguists Gregory Anderson and David Harrison to a region of India that requires a special permit just to enter.
To reach one village where this language is spoken, the expedition team had to cross a mountain river by bamboo raft.
It would be the first known time the language would be recorded.
Arunachal Pradesh is the home of an endangered language known as Koro. It’s part of the Tibeto-Burman language family, a group of some 400 languages.
But until now, Koro was unknown to world linguists.
Only about 800 people are believed to speak it, with few under age 20.
Harrison, Anderson and Indian linguist Ganesh Murmu sat in the homes of the speakers, making recordings as people shared vocabularies and stories in Koro.
The researchers were in the region to study two poorly known languages, but in speaking to the locals, detected the third surprise language.
The scientists believe Koro may have sprung from slaves in the region, but they say more research is needed to determine precise origins.
Linguists consider half of the world’s nearly seven thousand languages endangered, threatened by cultural changes, ethnic shame, and even government repression.
But at least with the Enduring Voices project, languages like Koro can be recorded and documented for the ages.
The United States has deported tens of thousands of Mexicans who crossed the border as children, and many now struggle on the streets of Tijuana in a country they hardly know.
Latest From Nat Geo
It's all hands (and paws) on deck when it comes to the poaching crisis in Africa.
For Sebastián García Iglesias, the ghosts of his ancestors are stitched to the tapestry of the land they pioneered.
In this new series, writers and photographers from around the world reflect on places that hold special meaning for them.
The Future of Food Series
Food. It's driven nearly everything we've ever done as a species, and yet it's one of the most overlooked aspects of human history.
We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.