Skip to main content

Listen: Linguist David Harrison Records Indian Language New to Science

Listen: Linguist David Harrison
Records Indian Language New to Science

by Alisa Giardinelli

K. David Harrison
K. David Harrison says there are only a few hundred speakers of Koro, three of whom are pictured above.

On a research trip to a remote region in India to find speakers of two little-known languages, Associate Professor of Linguistics K. David Harrison found the unexpected - a third language, Koro, that had never been documented.

"It hadn't previously been noticed in the Indian census or in any study of the languages of India," Harrison tells NPR's All Things Considered. "It wasn't listed in any listing of the world's languages. It had basically been completely unnoticed by outsiders and by scientists."

Listen to the complete interview:

Harrison and his colleague Greg Anderson were searching for speakers of Aka and Miji. After finding speakers of Koro, Harrison took the first known set of recordings of the language. He documents these and other dying languages - and his attempts to revitalize them - in his new book, The Last Speakers (2010).

Harrison's efforts to document Koro garnered wide coverage this week: on global wire services such as the Associated Press and Reuters, national broadcast news sites including ABC News, CNN, and CBS News, as well as in major dailies such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Los Angeles Times. It also appeared in The Times of India, BBC News, and Science Daily, among others.

Harrison is an authority on endangered and dying languages with particular interest in connections between language and biodiversity, ethnoecology, and cultural survival. He is also the author of When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge (2007). He and Anderson lead the scientific research for the Enduring Voices Project, a partnership between the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages they founded and National Geographic Mission Programs.