Thursday, October 7, 2010

A New Language in India: New to Outsiders, That is

"Linguists uncover 'hidden' language in north India
Los Angeles Times (October 6, 2010)

"Koro is used by 800 to 1,200 people in a remote area. The language had gone undetected by outsiders because its speakers shared cultural similarities with the speakers of Aka, a key language in the region.

"A previously unknown language has been uncovered in the far reaches of northeastern India, researchers reported Tuesday.

"Koro, a tongue brand-new to the scientific world that is spoken by just 800 to 1,200 people, could soon face extinction as younger speakers abandon it for more widely used languages such as Hindi or English.

"Koro is unlike any language in the various branches of the Tibeto-Burman family, a collection of 400 related languages used by peoples across Asia, according to the two National Geographic fellows who announced the discovery. The findings will be published in the journal Indian Linguistics...."

According to the article, nobody noticed the folks speaking Koro, since they aren't part of the area's dominant culture - and they look, dress, and act pretty much like their neighbors who speak Aka.

Apparently no researchers noticed that some of the Aka-speaking people weren't speaking Aka?

Anyway - this is a pretty big deal to linguists.

And, the Lemming is being unfair - as the Los Angeles Times article put it:

"...The researchers had been told about the so-called dialect of Aka. But when they sat down to record the words of a villager they assumed to be speaking it, they were surprised by the unfamiliarity of the words and could tell this was no mere dialect.

" 'We noticed it instantly,' Anderson said. 'We started with a body-part word list, and there wasn't a single word in common.' After further study, they realized that Koro was not only a language in its own right, but one as different from Aka as English is from Russian...."

There's a lot to be learned here - but don't worry, the Lemming isn't going to rant - that's for the next post. Back to the Los Angeles Times article:

"...Now globalization is ending that isolation, and it may end Koro's existence, too. In many families, the parents speak Koro while the children speak Hindi, the politically dominant language in India. Few Koro speakers are younger than 20.

"The announcement comes in the same year that India lost the last speaker of Bo, one of the world's oldest languages...."

I hope that someone gets busy with tape recorders and starts collecting data. Or, better yet, that the folks who speak Koro start having more kids - and help them appreciate their culture enough to hang on to the language.

And that's another topic.

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