Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese
Anvita Abbi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
Major Documentation Project. Duration: 2004-2007. £56,433
Great Andamanese, a highly endangered language of the fifth language family of India, is a mixed language of ten disparate groups of a tribe that once inhabited the entire region of the Andaman Islands in the south-east of the Indian sub-continent in the Bay of Bengal. It is generally believed that all Andamanese languages might be the last surviving languages whose history goes back to pre-Neolithic times in Southeast Asia and possibly the first settlement of the region by modern humans (Hagelberg et al 2002). Anthropological study of Great Andamanese was undertaken by A.R. Radcliff-Brown during 1906-1908 when not more than 620 Great Andamanese were left in the jungles. Since then the population has declined drastically to 37 and they live in the jungles of Strait Island.
The sound system and verb morphology of the language are very distinct from other languages of the Andamanese family. Earlier work on Great Andamanese by Manoharan (1989) did not deal in detail with its sound system, syntax, lexicon, or sociolinguistic aspects. Nor did he make available any audio and video recordings of the language.
The project aims to undertake extensive fieldwork to make audio and video recordings of Great Andamanese speakers, collect oral texts including songs, produce an illustrated trilingual Hindi/Great Andamanese/English dictionary, and write a comprehensive grammar, and sociolinguistic sketch.