|Ethnicity||Great Andamanese people|
|Great Andaman Island|
|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
|ISO 639-3||(Great Andamanese, Mixed) gac (Great Andamanese, Mixed)|
Ethnolinguistic map of the precolonial Andaman Islands. The languages with prefixes (which mean "language") are Great Andamanese.
The Great Andamanese languages are a near-extinct language family once spoken by the Great Andamanese peoples of the Andaman Islands (India), in the Indian Ocean. The last fluent speaker, of what may have been a creole based on Aka-Jeru, died in 2009. However, there are still speakers of a koine-form of Great Andamanese known as "Aka-Jero".
By the late 18th century, when the British first settled on the Andaman islands, there were an estimated 5,000 Great Andamanese living on Great Andaman and surrounding islands, comprising 10 distinct tribes with distinct but closely related languages. From the 1860s onwards, the setting up of a permanent British penal colony and the subsequent arrival of immigrant settlers and indentured labourers, mainly from the Indian subcontinent greatly reduced their numbers, to a low of 19 individuals in 1961.
Since then their numbers have rebounded somewhat, reaching 52 by 2010. However, by 1994 seven of the ten tribes were already extinct, and divisions among the surviving tribes (Jeru, Bo and Cari) had effectively ceased to exist due to intermarriage and resettlement to a much smaller territory on Strait Island. Some of them also intermarried with Karen (Burmese) and Indian settlers. Hindi increasingly serves as their primary language, and is the only language for around half of them. The last known speaker of the Bo language died in 2010 at age 85.
About half of the population now speak what may be considered a new language (a kind of mixed or koine language) of the Great Andamanese family, based mainly on Aka-Jeru. This modified version has been called "Present Great Andamanese" by some scholars, but also may be referred to simply as "Jero" or "Great Andamanese".
The Great Andamanese languages are agglutinative languages, with an extensive prefix and suffix system. They have a distinctive noun class system based largely on body parts, in which every noun and adjective may take a prefix according to which body part it is associated with (on the basis of shape, or functional association). Thus, for instance, the *aka- at the beginning of the language names is a prefix for objects related to the tongue. An adjectival example can be given by the various forms of yop, "pliable, soft", in Aka-Bea:
Similarly, beri-nga "good" yields:
The prefixes are,
|torso (shoulder to shins)||ab-||ab-||ab-||a-||o-|
Abbi (2013: 80) lists the following body part prefixes in Great Andamanese.
|Class||Partonomy of the human body||Body class marker|
|1||mouth and its semantic extensions||a=|
|2||major external body parts||ɛr=|
|3||extreme ends of the body (e.g., toes and fingernails)||oŋ=|
|4||bodily products and part-whole relationships||ut=|
|5||organs inside the body||e=|
|6||parts designating round shape or sexual organs||ara=|
|7||parts for legs and related terms||o= ~ ɔ=|
The basic pronouns are almost identical throughout the Great Andamanese languages; Aka-Bea will serve as a representative example (pronouns given in their basic prefixal forms):
|I, my||d-||we, our||m-|
|thou, thy||ŋ-||you, your||ŋ-|
|he, his, she, her, it, its||a||they, their||l-|
'This' and 'that' are distinguished as k- and t-.
The following is the sound system of the present-day Great Andamanese (PGA):
It is noted that a few sounds would have changed among more recent speakers, perhaps due to the influence of Hindi. Older speakers tended to have different pronunciations than among the more younger speakers. The consonant sounds of /pʰ, kʰ, l/ were common among older speakers to pronounce them as /ɸ~f~β, x, lʷ/. The lateral /l/ sound may have also been pronounced as /ʎ/. Sounds such as a labio-velar approximant /w/, only occur within words or can be a word-final, and cannot occur as a word-initial consonant. The sounds /ɽ, β/ can occur as allophones of /r, b/.
The languages spoken in the Andaman islands fall into two clear families, Great Andamanese and Ongan, plus one unattested language, Sentinelese. These are generally seen as related. However, the similarities between Great Andamanese and Ongan are so far mainly of a typological morphological nature, with little demonstrated common vocabulary. As a result, even long-range researchers such as Joseph Greenberg have expressed doubts as to the validity of Andamanese as a family, and Abbi (2008) considers the surviving Great Andamanese language to be an isolate. The Great Andaman languages are:
Joseph Greenberg proposed that Great Andamanese is related to western Papuan languages as members of a larger phylum he called Indo-Pacific, but this is not generally accepted by other linguists. Stephen Wurm states that the lexical similarities between Great Andamanese and the West Papuan and certain languages of Timor "are quite striking and amount to virtual formal identity [...] in a number of instances", but considers this to be due to a linguistic substratum rather than a direct relationship.
Names and spellings, with populations, from the 1901 and 1994 censuses were as follows:
Translated (by Portman):
... The Great Andamanese population was large till 1858 when it started declining ... In 1901, their number was reduced to only 600 and in 1961 to a mere 19 ...