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Frequently Asked Questions

Q 1. What is endangered language?

Ans. Endangered languages are those languages which have a very few people speaking it. These are mainly those languages that are relatively less spoken and do not have government protections.


Q 2. How many languages in the world are endangered?

There may be many. There are several language communities which are struggling to survive the threat of getting merged in other major contiguous language community(ies). Ethnologue reports a total of around 1600 languages. This number is just an estimate. In fact, the major languages having some sort of sovereign protection are not more than 150.


Q 3. Who are the Great Andamanese?

Ans. The Great Andamanese were the most thriving people in the islands and the first to come in contact with the settlers there. There were ten tribes in this group spread throughout the Andaman group of Islands. Each of the tribe had a distinct dialect of its own. Eventually, they bore the brunt of the occupation of their land and have finally succumbed to it. These were only 23 in 1970 when they were finally settled in Strait Island, a tiny island of about 1.2 square kms. Their number has increased now up to 50, but this is a mix population. There has been rapid shift in language and the younger generation is unwilling and non-enthusiastic to learn and use their language. There are hardly six to seven people who can speak something in their own language. Even that comes with great difficulty. Next generation transfer of the indigenous language has stopped completely. The settlement area of Strait Island has been declared as primitive tribal zone and it is not allowed to have contact with them without permission from the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti i.e. Andaman Primitive Tribe Development Committee and the Administration.


Q 4. What is the social condition of the Great Andamanese?

Ans. As said earlier, the Great Andamanese were the most thriving people of the Islands, far more in number and occupying most of the landmass in the Andaman Islands. Their estimated population in 1789 was 10,000. They are the first to bear the brunt of modern colonization starting in late 1700s. By 1901 their population diminished to 625 which further reduced to 19 in 1969. This drastic and almost immediate death blow to the primitive community due to colonization of their land and insensitive administrative treatment to bring them under control made them go unnoticed down in the history until Indian administration finally awoke, though very late, in 1970 and resettled the rest of these people (only 19) scattered at different places to a tiny island called Strait Island.


Q 5. How many people are there in this community?

Ans. Although the numbers grew up after the resettlement so much so that at present (i.e. March, 2006) their number can be shown up to near 50, most of the younger generation is mixed in blood.


Q 6. How many people speak this language?

Ans. The name Great Andamanese in itself is rather a construct. There were ten tribes and each tribe spoke a different dialect. Each tribe also had a different name. Most of these tribes are extinct now. When the resettlemetnt was done, the majority of the surviving people were Jero. As this was the majority, the few members of other tribes (namely Khora, Sare and Bo) shifted their loyalty to Jero. So the present existing Great Andamanese say that they speak Jero.

Not all of the so called 50 Great Andamanese people speak their mother tongue. In fact there are only five to seven elderly people who at least claim that they speak their mother tongue. The rest of the people have shifted their loyalty to other languages, mainly Hindi.


Q 7. Does this language has a grammar?

Ans. Linguistically speaking, every language has a grammar. The question is whether the language has a graamar in written form or not? For this, the answer is yes. A grammar was written by Dr. S. Manoharan in 1989. This is a good descriptive study and is quite comprehensive. A language community which never had a writing system, the question of having a written grammar never arises.


Q 8. Does this languae has a script?

Ans. Nope. Not at all. That is why we have adopted the IPA (International Alphabetic System) to encode the language.


Q 9. Which family does this language belong to?
Ans. Great Andamanese belongs to an isolated family as no relation of the language has been established with any other language family with certainty.

Q 10. How old is the language?
Ans. We cannot say with surety about the antiquity of the language. However, Andamanese as a tribe are the remnants of the pre-neolithic humans who migrated out of Africa 70,000 years before present ( Thangaraj et al 2005, 2006).


Q 11. What is a verb analyzer?

Ans.A verb analyzer is a system that analyzes the verb forms of a language.


Q 12. What is the use of the Great Andamanese Verb Analyzer?

Ans. The program being undertaken here is that of pertaining to an area of NLP. The dynamicity of the program is of greater value and importance. The program being produced through this endeavor is limited to a morphological analyzer only. The morphological analyzer presented here can serve as a basis of further analysis of the data. The whole of the text can be analyzed if some new modules are added to the present program. Besides serving as an online text analyzer for Great Andamanese, the web thus produced will give a greater visibility to the language and the community.


Q 13. What is NLP / Computational Linguistics?

Ans. This is an area of academic endeavour which draws on two disciplines- Computer Science and Linguistics. NLP (Natural Language Processing) is the named used most frequently by computer scientist while linguists prefer computational linguistics.

The goal of computational linguistics is to “build computational models of natural language for its analysis and generation. First there is technological motivation of building intelligent computer systems such as machine translation systems, natural language interfaces to databases, man-machine interfaces to computers in general, speech understanding systems, text-analysis and understanding systems, computer aided instruction systems, systems that read and understand printed or handwritten text. Second, there is a cognitive and linguistic motivation to gain a better insight into how humans communicate using natural language (NL).

The tools of work in NLP are grammar formalisms, algorithms and data structures, formalism for representing world knowledge, reasoning mechanisms, etc. Many of these have been taken from and inherit results from computer science, artificial intelligence, linguistics, logic and philosophy”.


Q 14. Why NLP on such an endangered language?

Ans. The question of why at all working on the computational morphology of Great Andamanese, a language that will have no speakers left say just in ten years is a tricky question to answer. In a situation when more flourishing languages of the world are still to get the helping hand from the technology, working on the NLP of an endangered language may look like a rather too ambitious project. Great Andamanese being an endangered language, it needs to serve an example of how a traditional system which had been alive for thousands of years representing one of the oldest people living in the same conditions, has undergone the threat of a total extinction. This has happened within a century and the speed with which the present situation has taken place is worth noting. If this is taken as an example, one would know the urgent need of documenting and spreading the information about such languages and linguistic situations to the world so that they become aware of the loss of cultural and linguistic wealth and do something to the effect that such knowledge and knowledge systems are kept alive for the posterity. Documenting the language digitally, however, does help achieve this goal in some ways as it serves the purpose of archiving whatever is taken for conservation. But, simply archiving the knowledge in a static way does not give much impetus to the general people to explore or look at it with interest. If there is some dynamic method of archiving which can make exploration easier for the people, this will be of great importance to the people belonging to the community and also to the researchers and, as Himmelmann (2006) suggests, to the discipline of descriptive linguistics, linguistic typology, cognitive anthropology etc. A good reason to the need of documentation and emphasis on the endangered language is given in the books that came in recent years by authors like Crystal (2000), Grenoble and Whaley (1998), Bradley and Bradley (2002).

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