In January 2010, Boa Sr. died. A resident of India’s Andaman Islands, Boa was the eldest member of the Great Andamanese tribe and her death marked the extinction of the Bo, or Aka-Bo, language. While the loss of a language is never positive, this particular loss is especially worrisome because it could leave A-Pucikwar, which is already highly endangered, as the only remaining Greater Andamanese language.

The Great Andamanese tribes were once prolific across the Andaman Islands, but British colonization led to a significant decrease in land area. The remaining members of the Great Adamanese tribes now reside on Strait Island, in the central eastern portion of the Andamans. Linguists disagree about how many of the original ten or so Great Andamanese languages still have living speakers, with Aka-Jeru being another possible candidate. (The Aka- prefix indicates words related to the tongue, thus roughly translating in this case as “language”.) Nevertheless, all are extremely endangered, with Hindi increasingly replacing the tribal languages as the native language of Andamanese youth.

But India isn’t all sad news for the study of language. In October 2010, based on research conducted in 2005 and 2008, it was revealed that a previously undocumented language had been discovered in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The Koro language is estimated to have between 800 and 1,200 speakers and linguists suspect that it is a member of a novel branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family. Either way, Koro has managed to remain fundamentally distinct from the Aka language with which it coexists, in the eastern foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.

Further Reading:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8498534.stm – BBC article on Boa’s death
http://www.andamanese.net/ – Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese
http://glossographia.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/no-country-for-old-tongues/ – Criticism of age claims of Bo language
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11479563 – BBC article on discovery of Koro language in India
http://www.physorg.com/news205512282.html – Another article on Koro

Abbi, Anvita, Bidisha Som and Alok Das. 2007. “Where Have All The Speakers Gone? A Sociolinguistic Study of the Great Andamanese.” Indian Linguistics, 68.3-4: 325-343.

-GPH

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