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Language Diary | An Ethnologist's View On Dying Andamanese Languages

How does it feel to be the last speaker of a language? Or to witness a situation where the person talking to you is the very last speaker of her mother tongue?

Language Diary | An Ethnologist's View On Dying Andamanese Languages

The Last Word

“Hold on to your language, don’t let it slip away.” These prophetic words of Boa Sr, one of the last speakers of the Great Andamanese languages, kept ringing in my mind for a very long time. “Once I am gone who will you talk to?” Boa spoke in Bo, one of the vanishing languages of the Great Andamanese language family which had no living speakers other than her. Other members of the community who were not more than ten, spoke another language, Jeru, or a mixture of four mutually intelligible dialects known as the present-day Great Andamanese, as a code language. Once spoken vibrantly by 5,000 members across the Andaman Islands at the turn of the 20th century, by the time I encountered the language in 2001, it had turned into whispers.

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