About the People and Language
It has been known that the disparate groups of Great Andamanese tribe each speaking an independent language, once inhabited the entire region of the Andaman Islands in the southeast of the Indian subcontinent in the Bay of Bengal (see territory occupied coloured in purple Map 1 and the fig 1 given below).
The Andamanese represent the last survivors of the pre-Neolithic population of Southeast Asia. Genetic research (Thangaraj et al, 2005) indicates that the Andamanese tribes are the remnants of the first migration from Africa that took place 70,000 years ago.See http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/308/5724/996
The Present Great Andamanese is a mixed language of four different but mutually intelligible varieties of the recently discovered the sixth language family India. Hence it can be called Mixed or Present Great Andamanese [PGA]. The Great Andamanese family was represented by ten different languages which are extinct now and remain only in the form of PGA which has drawn its sources from Sare, Jeru, Khora and Bo languages of the North Andaman. The last speakers of Khora and Bo were lost to us in the last two years (Fig. 2 on left).
Presently, the population figure of the Great Andamanese is very small. Of the 56 remaining Great Andamanese people who live in the Strait Island and in the city of Port Blair, in the Union Territory of the Andaman Islands of India, there are only four semi-speakers of the Present Great Andamanese language, popularly known as Jero or Jeru. The language, at present, is in a ‘very critical’ stage (see Map 2). Even these few speakers have stopped speaking the language among themselves. When the project was launched there were nine speakers of the PGA who also had some competency in their respective mother tongues, such as Bo or Khora. Refer to the Language Graphs below. This was the situation in 2005 when we started our intensive study on the language.
The Great Andamanese speakers are multilingual in a broad sense as they all can converse with varying degrees of competency in PGA as well as in local Hindi which is not a standard variety but is the lingua franca of the region and they also know some lexicon from one of the four languages of which PGA is constituted. The common language used for daily interaction is this local Hindi, popularly known as Andamanese Hindi.
As of 2005
Figure1: The number of members in the Great Andamanese community
Figure 2: Age-wise competence level of the speakers
Figure 3: Percentage and number of speakers on the scale of competence
Figure 4. The number and mean age of the speakers on the competence scale
Key to competency levels
0= no knowledge of the language
1 = neither speaks nor understands, recognizes only a few words
2= low level understanding, do not speak
3= phrase level awareness, but do not speak
Figure 5. Number of speakers in different age groups and their mother tongue