In the foothills of the Himalayas, two field linguists have discovered an oddity as rare as any endangered species—a language completely new to science.
The researchers, who announced their find Tuesday in Washington, D.C., encountered it for the first time along the western ridges of Arunachal Pradesh, India’s northeastern-most state, where more than 120 languages are spoken. There, isolated by craggy slopes and rushing rivers, the hunters and subsistence farmers who speak this rare tongue live in a dozen or so villages of bamboo houses built on stilts.
The researchers identified the language—called Koro—during a 2008 expedition conducted as part of National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project.
“Their language is quite distinct on every level—the sound, the words, the sentence structure,” said Gregory Anderson, director of the nonprofit Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, who directs the project’s research. Details of the language will be documented in an upcoming issue of the journal Indian Linguistics