The Andaman Islands are comprised of a cluster of approximately 550 islands, rocks and rocky outcrop running from north to south and located southeast of the Indian subcontinent in the Bay of Bengal. They are separated from the Malay Peninsula by the Andaman Sea, an extension of the Bay of Bengal, and are part of the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands belonging to India (Map 1). Geographically, the Andaman Islands are closer to Myanmar and Indonesia than to mainland India. However, contact between the Andamanese and the populations of the neighbouring countries has not been established in the recent past. The capital city of the Andaman Islands is Port Blair, situated in the south of the Islands at a distance of 1255 km from Kolkata and 1190 km from Chennai.
The results reported in these pages are the outcome of research spanning two decades beginning from December 2001, first under the project titled Linguistic Survey of Andamans funded by the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany and later under Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese (VOGA) between 2005-09, funded by Hans Rausing Endangered Language Fund, SOAS, University of London. Subsequently, the research had been continuing on the vanishing language of the Great Andamanese till we lost Licho in 2022, one of the fluent speakers of the language. As of now, there are four speakers in the community of 56 who are semi-speakers of their heritage language.
Great andamanese has been identified as the sixth language family of India.- Abbi 2003
Her study of the Andamanese languages (2003-04) established the distinctness of Great Andamanese from the other two accessible languages of the Island, such as Jarawa and Onge and established the possibility of the Sixth language family of India. Latest genetic research (Science 2005) confirmed her findings by identifying two independent haplogroups M31 and M32 in the region. Subsequent data from her fieldwork (2006-07) pertaining to the lexicon and morpho-syntactic complexities of the three endangered languages of the Andaman Islands provided further evidence that Great Andamanese is typologically divergent and linguistically a distinct language family from the one that Onge and Jarawa belong to. Her findings indicate the establishment of the sixth language family of India. Please refer to Is Great Andamanese genealogically and typologically distinct from Onge and Jarawa? by Anvita Abbi in Language Sciences.
Three major points emerge from her research: