Koro Aka Language Documentation Project
Most people of the tribal group known as the Aka of West Kameng and East Kameng districts of Arunachal Pradesh speak a language called ʁuso, written Hruso. But there is also a small sub-tribe of about 800-1200 people that are locally known as the Koro-Aka, who speak an entirely separate language from the Hruso-Aka. Culturally part of the Aka tribe, the Koro Aka language is a separate and unique language of the Tibeto-Burman family, and not a dialect of the Hruso language (Anderson and Murmu 2010).
As research from Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages has shown, Koro is clearly not a part of Hrusish linguistically, which does most likely include the other local language Miji, in addition to Hruso. To be sure, it is clear that Koro Aka is not a variety of Hruso Aka in any sense. In fact, Koro and Miji have at least as many parallels lexically as do Koro and Hruso.
Indeed, there are very few unique Koro-Hruso isoglosses, and in fact little has been borrowed across the languages. However, this may not actually be that surprising if you think about the nature of the relationship between Koro and Hruso. It is precisely different linguistic practices that distinguish the Koro Aka from the Hruso Aka, who are otherwise basically identical culturally, and they both are considered by themselves to be part of the same tribe.
Koro Aka does however share certain lexical and grammatical correspondences with a number of different related languages of Arunachal Pradesh. While Koro Aka does not appear to be a Tani language per se, it does share some notable commonalities with languages of both the Western and Eastern Tani areas, and indeed with Proto-Tani itself (Sun 1993). For example, within Western Tani, perhaps not unexpectedly, local languages spoken relatively close to the Koro Aka setllements, e.g., certain Western Nishi varieties like Yano and Nyisu, show many parallels with Koro.
Whatever the exact nature of the relationship is, Koro appears to have significant parallels with Proto-Tani and the divergent and important Milang language, which may itself be a sister to the Tani family (Post 2009/2010). Note that it is particularly within the domain of lexical items that Milang possesses but that are not found in other Tani languages that Koro shows the most similarities to, perhaps reflecting a (now assimilated) non-Tani substrate language that is common to both Milang and Koro Aka.
Koro also shows fewer but an overall noteworthy number of correspondences with the Digarish family, with the as yet unclassified Tibeto-Burman languages of western Arunachal Pradesh representing the Kho-Bwa cluster (van Driem 2001): Bugun, Sulung and Sherdukpen, and with the Midzuish family as well. All of these language groups are spoken in Arunachal Pradesh, and a few in adjacent parts of China as well.
A Koro creation myth, as told in Hindi by Katia Yame
It is far from an understatement that much remains to be done on the Koro language. This includes as full as possible descriptions of its lexicon, phonology, and grammar, also to resolve the history and taxonomy of this enigmatic Tibeto-Burman language. Further, we understand very little at present how, in the face of ethnically mixed marriages and submerged or homogenized cultural identities, has the tiny community of this ‘hidden’ language Koro managed to preserve its own identity linguistically.
Koro is presently beginning to feel pressure from, and exhibit shift to, Hindi, many young Koro use Hindi exclusively. Thus, we must act now to continue addressing some of the most pressing and urgent tasks before this unique and enigmatic Tibeto-Burman language of Arunachal Pradesh vanishes forever.
Originally under the auspices of the Enduring Voices Project, Living Tongues Institute Director Dr. Greg Anderson, Research Director Dr. David Harrison, and Santal language activist and Living Tongues Institute Local Coordinator for Jharkhand and NE India, Ganesh Murmu, together with Koro language activist and community member Sange Degio have been working on this ‘hidden’ Koro language of Arunachal Pradesh. We have been gathering materials for a comprehensive documentation of the Koro language since early 2008. After presenting our preliminary findings at conferences in the US and India in 2008 and 2009, our first academic paper on Koro was published in 2010; a larger study is currently in preparation.
Koro Aka Audio Files and Transcriptions
Koro Aka Project Photos
Koro-Hruso-Miji Language Comparison
A step toward figuring out the history of this ‘hidden’ language of Arunachal Pradesh
“We are exactly the same, just a little bit different in dialect” – a commonly heard belief held by both Koro Aka and Aka Hruso speakers in villages where they are spoken in West and East Kameng districts, Arunachal Pradesh. Both are considered sub-tribes of the same tribal group, the Aka. Despite many cultural similarities, their languages are quite distinct.
Defined, the Aka-dominated cultural sphere of ethnolinguistic groups consists of Aka Hruso, Koro Aka, Bugun (Khowa), and Miji, and probably also Puroik (Sulung). Only a tiny amount of data from one other group, the obscure Bangru (Levai) reported in van Driem (2000 and elsewhere), has of yet been available to us, and therefore the claim that this group belongs in the Aka-Miji cluster cannot be adequately evaluated here. Poor data has hampered comparative efforts, and even today it is not clear what languages constitute this grouping, or what the exact nature of their relationship is, e.g., areal, genetic linguistic and/or typological. Broadly speaking, all of the languages appear to belong to the Tibeto-Burman phylum.
Demographic and Sociolinguistic Data:
Aka Hruso: ca. 2000; endangered
Miji: ca. 2500; threatened/endangered
Koro Aka: < 800; endangered
Bugun/Khowa: < 800; endangered
Sulung/Puroik: < 3000; threatened
Koro-Aka is thus an endangered language spoken by roughly 800-1200 people in East Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh. It remains an unclassified member of the Tibeto-Burman phylum. The language shows possible affinities with the macro-Tani language Milang, as well as other unclassified languages of West Kameng, e.g. Bugun, Sherdukpen, Sulung, Miji and Hruso-Aka (Anderson and Murmu 2010). Culturally part of the Aka tribe, their language appears to be only distantly related.
How little is known about these languages? Shafer (1947) discusses two ‘dialects’ of Hruso: his Hruso B is Aka Hruso proper, while Hruso A is in fact Miji, and not Hruso at all! Prior to the first published work from Living Tongues Institute’s Koro Aka Documentation project (Anderson and Murmu 2010), Koro Aka data previously appeared only in Grewal (1997).