Hunting One Language, Stumbling Upon Another





Two years ago, a team of linguists plunged into the remote hill country of northeastern India to study little-known languages, many of them unwritten and in danger of falling out of use.

On average, every two weeks one of the world’s recorded 7,000 languages becomes extinct, and the expedition was seeking to document and help preserve the endangered ones in these isolated villages.

At a rushing mountain river, the linguists crossed on a bamboo raft and entered the tiny village of Kichang. They expected to hear the people speaking Aka, a fairly common tongue in that district. Instead, they heard a language, the linguists said, that sounded as different from Aka as English does from Japanese.

After further investigation, leaders of the research announced last week the discovery of a “hidden” language, known locally as Koro, completely new to the world outside these rural communities. While the number of spoken languages continues to decline, at least one new one has been added to the inventory, though Koro too is on the brink of extinction....


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