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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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Dead? Far from it - scientists discover 'new' language

Researchers discover a language spoken in the Himalayas that had never been recorded before.

The Arunachal Pradesh region of India, where the new language was discovered, is a regular place of pilgrimage for Buddhist monks.
The Arunachal Pradesh region of India, where the new language was discovered, is a regular place of pilgrimage for Buddhist monks.
Image: Manish Swarup/AP

SCIENTISTS FROM the National Geographic Society have managed to uncover one of humanity’s rarest discoveries: a new human language.

The new language – called ‘Koro’ – is spoken in a handful of Indian villages near the Himalayan mountains, and was identified in 2008 when the society – better known for publishing the National Geographic Magazine – was carrying out an expedition for its Enduring Voices project.

The language, according to project director Gregory Anderson, “is quite distinct on every level – the sound, the words, the sentence structure.”

It was thought that there were two languages spoken in the region before now; the language was first reported as a dialect of Aka (the other is Miji) but upon examination, turned out to be unique – not only to Aka, but to every other language on the planet.

Uncertain future

Kolo is constructed in an apparently unique way – not appearing to share the way sentences are structured.

“They uniquely code knowledge of the natural world in ways that cannot be translated into a major language,” Anderson said.

Sadly, with the small number of people (about 800, according to the Wall Street Journal) speaking the language, and the apparently absence of any authoritative theory on how the language is constructed or evolved, it may not be long before the language becomes extinct.

There are 6,909 known languages, the WSJ says, and half are expected to have disappeared before the end of the century. One language dies every two weeks, it says, when its latest fluent speaker passes away.

Koro’s case is sadly further limited because it appears not to have any written form – it is merely spoken as a second language by most of those who know it.

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Gavan Reilly

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