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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kachim, Gregory AndersonAP – This undated handout photo provided by National Geographic shows Kachim, a speaker of the hidden language …
WASHINGTON – A "hidden" language spoken by only about 1,000 people has been discovered in the remote northeast corner of India by researchers who at first thought they were documenting a dialect of the Aka culture, a tribal community that subsists on farming and hunting.
They found an entirely different vocabulary and linguistic structure.
Even the speakers of the tongue, called Koro, did not realize they had a distinct language, linguist K. David Harrison said Tuesday.
Culturally, the Koro speakers are part of the Aka community in India's Arunachal Pradesh state, and Harrison, associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, said both groups merely considered Koro a dialect of the Aka language.
But researchers studying the groups found they used different words for body parts, numbers and other concepts, establishing Koro as a separate language, Harrison said.
"Koro is quite distinct from the Aka language," said Gregory Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. "When we went there we were told it was a dialect of Aka, but it is a distant sister language."
People of the Aka culture live in small villages near the borders of China, Tibet and Burma (also known as Myanmar). They practice subsistence hunting, farming and gathering firewood in the forest and tend to wear ornate clothing of hand-woven cloth, favoring red garments. Their languages are not well known, though they were first noted in the 19th century.
The region where they live in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains requires a special permit to enter. There, the researchers crossed a mountain river on a bamboo raft and climbed steep hillsides to to reach the remote villages, going door-to-door among the bamboo houses that sit on stilts.
Harrison and Anderson spoke at a news conference organized by the National Geographic Society, which supported their work.
The northeast corner of India is known as a hotspot of language diversity and researchers were documenting some of the unwritten tongues when they came across Koro in research started in 2008.
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