It aims to save languages of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The 19-year-old ambitious project to save endangered indigenous languages and linguistic heritage of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, taken up by Mysore-based Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), has hit a roadblock owing to the shortage of trained linguists.

Raja Singh is the only linguist working on the project of national importance from the past two years as other linguists and researchers associated with it have retired from service. In fact, Dr. Singh is working on contract basis from the past 19 years.

No attempts have been made so far by the Union Human Resource Development Ministry to recruit linguists and researchers needed for completing the project.

Audio cassettes

While 178 audio cassettes are yet to be transcribed, the work on cultural documentation is also pending owing to lack of trained linguists, Dr. Singh said.

The CIIL is doing its best to conserve indigenous languages and linguistic heritage of Andaman and Nicobar Islands with the support of Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti, Port Blair.

As part of the project, linguists and research scholars of the CIIL have so far codified and written primers and grammar in six languages. They have brought out bilingual primers in Onge, Andamanese, and Shompen , and completed the work on A Handbook of Jarawa Language in 2000.

Now the CIIL is concentrating on the study of Nicobarese language.

Master plan

The Andaman and Nicobar Administration (ANA) prepared a master plan for the development of Andaman Tribes in 1991 and approached the CIIL for preparing primer in Onge as part of the plan. The Onges are a preliterate community belonging to the Negrito group of nomadic tribes who are presently settled in the Dugong Creek and South Bay of Little Andaman Island.

Dr. Singh and M.R. Ranganathan stayed in Dugong Creek and collected data and prepared script for Onge in Devanagari in the Bilingual Transfer Framework, an innovative model developed by the CIIL. The result was publication of Onge-Hindi-English Pictorial Glossary by Mr. Ranganathan, Dr. Singh and R. Subbu Krishna, and Onge-Hindi Bilingual Primer by Mr. Ranganathan and Dr. Singh.

The ANA then requested the CIIL to write primer for the Great Andamanese tribe, a predominant Negrito tribe with a population of 8,000 prior to the founding of penal settlement in 1858. Now they are just 36 in number.

Consistent efforts by Dr. Singh, Mr. Ranganathan and S. Manoharan resulted in Andamanese-Hindi-English Pictorial Glossary and Andamanese-Hindi Bilingual Primer. “The primer and the glossary were a humble attempt in the direction of protecting the endangered tribe, and reviving its culture and language,” said Dr. Singh.

On A Handbook of Jarawa Language, he said that the need to have such a handbook was felt both by the Andaman administration and the public. It was decided to launch a six-month pilot project for the study of the Jarawa tribe in its entirety and the language. A core group including linguists from the CIIL was constituted in 1995.

“The material presented in the handbook is the outcome of the results of a number of field visits conducted on various occasions from September 1996 to March 1999,” he said.

Nicobarese language

“Now our department is concentrating on the study of Nicobarese language, but staff crunch has become a major impediment in continuing the project,” he said.

At present, the CIIL is working on Descriptive Grammar of Onge and Jarwa Languages, Handbook for Basic Communication in Onge Language, A Survey on Maintenance/Loss of Andamanese Language among the Great Andamanese Tribe, A Script book for the Onge Children, and A Car Nicobarese-Hindi Bi-literacy Premier.

  • Only one linguist is working on the CIIL project from the past two years
  • No attempts made so far to recruit linguists and researchers needed for completing the project