|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
Distribution of the Ongan languages prior to 1850 (Fig. 1) and in 2005 (Fig. 2)
The two known extant languages are:
A third language, Sentinelese, the presumed language of the Sentinelese people, is thought to be related to the Ongan languages, but this is uncertain, as very little is known about the Sentinelese; estimated 15–500 speakers. Another language, Jangil, extinct sometime between 1895 and 1920, is reported to have been unintelligible with but to have had noticeable connections with Jarawa.
The Andamanese languages fall into two clear families, Great Andamanese and Ongan, plus one presumed but unattested language, Sentinelese. The similarities between Great Andamanese and Ongan are mainly of a typological and morphological nature, with little demonstrated common vocabulary. Linguists, including long-range researchers such as Joseph Greenberg, have expressed doubts as to the validity of Andamanese as a family. It has since been proposed that Ongan (but not Great Andamanese) is distantly related to Austronesian in a family called Austronesian–Ongan, but the proposal has not been well received.
The two attested Ongan languages are relatively close, and the historical sound reconstruction mostly straightforward:
|Jarawa||p, b||b||t||d||hʷ, h||h||ɡ, j||j||w||c||ɟ||m||n||ɲ||ŋ||l||r|
|Onge||b||b||t, d||d, r||kʷ, h||k, ɡ||ɡ, Ø||j||w||c, ɟ||ɟ||m||n||ɲ||ŋ||l, j||r/j/l, Ø|
|Jarawa||i||u||a||e, ə, o||o||(ə)|
|Onge||i||u||a||e, ə, o||o||(ə)|
*ə appears to be allophonic for *e before a nasal coda.
The Ongan languages are agglutinative, with an extensive prefix and suffix system. They have a 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). Another peculiarity of terms for body parts is that they are inalienably possessed, requiring a possessive adjective prefix to complete them, so one cannot say "head" alone, but only "my, or his, or your, etc. head".
The Ongan pronouns are here represented by Önge:
|I, my||m-||we, our||et-, ot-|
|thou, thy||ŋ-||you, your||n-|
|he, his, she, her, it, its||g-||they, their||ekw-, ek-, ok-|
There is also an indefinite prefix ən-, on- "someone's". Jarawa does not have the plural series, but the singular is very close: m-, ŋ- or n-, w-, ən-. From this, Blevins reconstructs Proto-Ongan *m-, *ŋ-, *gw-, *en-.