In search of language contact between Jarawa and Aka-Bea: The languages of South Andaman


  • Anvita Abbi
  • Pramod Kumar



The paper brings forth a preliminary report on the comparative data available on the extinct language Aka-Bea (Man 1923) and the endangered language Jarawa spoken in the south and the central parts of the Andaman Islands. Speakers of Aka-Bea, a South Andaman language of the Great Andamanese family and the speakers of Jarawa, the language of a distinct language family (Abbi 2006, 2009, Blevins 2008) lived adjacent to each other, i.e. in the southern region of the Great Andaman Islands in the past. Both had been hunter-gatherers and never had any contact with each other (Portman 1899, 1990). The Jarawas have been known for living in isolation for thousands of years, coming in contact with the outside world only recently in 1998. It is, then surprising to discover traces of some language-contact in the past between the two communities. Not a large database, but a few examples of lexical similarities between Aka-Bea and Jarawa are investigated here. Words for comparison are selected from the Automated Similarity Judgment Programme-list ASJP (Holman et al. 2008, Brown et al. 2007, 2008, Wichmann 2010) as well as from the Loan Word Typology research (Haspelmath and Tadmor 2009). Although we have data only for 100 items, we further compared the lexical items against the Swadesh list (1955) (see appendix 5). The result achieved exposes for the first time, the possibility of language contact between Aka-Bea and Jarawa in the past. We pose a very relevant question here: can enmities and rivalries induce changes in languages which can be ascribed to contact of a very special kind? We conclude by claiming that prototypical least borrowable lexical items can also be borrowed in a very specific context despite the absence of interactive communication between the two communities.