Foundation for Endangered Languages

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10. Recent Publications

From B.Clayre

SIL-PNG is happy to announce the recent publication of: Mussau Grammar Essentials by John and Marjo Brownie (Data Papers on Papua New Guinea Languages, volume 52). 2007. Ukarumpa: SIL. iv + 221 pages.

Mussau is a first-order Oceanic (Austronesian) language, spoken on islands at the northern tip of New Ireland Province in Papua New Guinea. Its unique position within Oceanic makes this description all the more important for comparative linguists.

Interesting features of the language include geminate vowels and consonants, various types of reduplication, a complex number-classifier system, several tense-aspect-mood markers, serial verb constructions, and an unusual equative clause (in which the subject is marked with an object pronoun following a transitive marker on the noun). Two interlinearised texts complete the description.

A pdf version of the book is available on the SIL-PNG website at This website also contains many other interesting documents, including language maps, brief phonologies, grammatical descriptions, as well as dictionaries in various formats.

Bound paper copies of the Mussau grammar can be obtained from at US$15. Postage from PNG is unfortunately rather high: $15 for Aus-tralia and $20 for the rest of the world.

Other Data Papers scheduled to appear in 2007:

Fuyug Grammar Sketch by Robert Bradshaw.

Lote Grammar Sketch by Greg and Mary Pearson.

Anvita Abbi: Endangered Languages of the Andaman Islands

Lincom Studies in Asian Linguistics (ISBN 3 89586 866 3). München: Lincom 2006. 117 pp. + CD ROM. US$ 78.08; € 64; UK£ 44.89

Anvita Abbi’s sketch of three major indigenous languages of the Andamans, Great Andamanese (GA), Jarawa and Onge, was launched at the FEL conference at Mysore on 27 October 2006, to some acclaim. The book offers a wide-ranging introduction to the languages of these is-lands in the Bay of Bengal, with a brief geographical and historical background to the islanders, a narrative of the hair-raising field-trip on which the Onge language data was gathered, a chapter each on the three languages, introducing their grammars and lexicons, and a final ty-pological chapter, where Abbi makes the radical sugges-tion that the Andamans, rather than containing one lan-guage family unrelated to anywhere in India or southeast Asia, actually contains two – GA being distinct from Jarawa-Onge. The book concludes with a section of maps and social snapshots in colour, and comes packaged with a CD-ROM, which contains pictures, sound files (includ-ing songs) and some video clips featuring speakers of each of the three languages. Hence it is much more than a set of sketch grammars, and conveys the atmosphere of Andaman life.

The languages of the Andamans are a classic example of languages that are endangered by the fact of first contact with humanity as organized in the vast surrounding states. In fact, one group of islanders, the Sentinelese, have continued to resist all contact by spearing all who come too close to the shore. Their language – whatever it may be – is therefore no more endangered than the is-landers themselves. (Abbi conjectures that they had some 250 people in 1998, well up from 50 in 1931.) But the three groups profiled, and recorded, here are in regular touch with Indian settlers. Although their numbers seem to be increasing, they correlate inversely with the time since contact: GA 40 (once in the early nineteenth cen-tury with a population of 3,500 covering the whole north of Great Andaman, but now since 1968 confined by gov-ernment action to a small offshore island), Onge 94, Jarawa 300 (contacted in 1997, as a result of building a Grand Trunk Road). Compare this with a population for the Andaman Islands as a whole of some 197,000. Among these groups, it is the Great Andamanese, with a way of life totally disrupted, whose language is the most endangered, no-one under 15 years of age speaking any-thing but Hindi. Although the Onge are the most isolated, living on their own island beyond crocodile infested wa-ters, it is the go-it-alone Jarawa, who are closest to their traditional hunter-gatherer life, which they live naked.

The chapters of individual languages raise in their titles the salient issues of each community: GA “Where have all the speakers gone?”; Jarawa “Touch me not”; Onge “Lost in their own jungle”. All have a ‘basic word list’ of be-tween 350 and 250 items. Great Andamanese, despite its few speakers, is characterized by Abbi less as a language than as a collection of partial speakers of ten related tongues, making it difficult for individual speakers to un-derstand one another, or indeed to cohere as a single language community, but now moving toward a single koine. Except in respect of phonology, the coverage of GA is much the fullest, with particular attention to body-parts, kinship terms, pronouns and deixis.

The GA speakers’ exposure to Hindi has blighted the fu-ture of their language, but at least it meant that Abbi and her team could communicate effectively with them. For Jarawa and Onge, by contrast, all informants had rather low competence in Hindi, and so the range of language that could be elicited was restricted: for Onge, this meant no evidence at all from women speakers, and no verbs in the lexicon section. They do, however, provide evidence of cognates in the two southern languages, Jarawa and Onge; and this is reinforced by a narrative (source un-stated) of an invasion of Great Andaman 3000-3500 years ago by the Jarawa, who had previously shared the southern island, Little Andaman, with the Onge. All the languages have same gross typology (SOV, with head-modifier order and postposed case-markers) but the evi-dence for separating GA from Jarawa-Onge is the phono-logical repertoire, the different system of verb inflexion and the absence of cognates.

Abbi is pessimistic about the future of the languages, and cries out that the need for further documentation is urgent, not least because such remote people can provide evidence of the first importance for the ancient history of humanity. For the people themselves, the last sentence of the book is poignant: “Each of the speakers we inter-viewed expressed the desire to turn the clock backwards, resuming life in the jungles where all they needed was plentiful and they lived in a very harmonious world.”