Aka-Bo language

Native toIndia
RegionAndaman Islands; east central coast of North Andaman island, North Reef island.
EthnicityBo people
Extinct26 January 2010, with the death of Boa Sr.[1][2]
Great Andamanese
  • Northern
    • Bo
Language codes
ISO 639-3akm
Schematic Map of Andamanese Languages & Tribes.png

The Bo language, Aka-Bo (also known as Ba), is an extinct Great Andamanese language. It was spoken on the west central coast of North Andaman[3] and on North Reef Island of the Andaman Islands in India.


The Aka- at the beginning of the language name is a common Great Andamanese prefix for words related to the tongue, which includes language.[4]


The original size of the Bo tribe, by 1858, has been estimated at 200 individuals.[5] However, they were discovered by the colonial authorities only later, in the work leading to the 1901 census.[5] Like other Andamanese peoples, the Bo were decimated during colonial and post-colonial times, by diseases, alcohol, opium and loss of territory. The census of 1901 recorded only 48 individuals.[6] Census takers were told that an epidemic had come from the neighboring Kari and Kora tribes, and the Bo had resorted to killing all of their own who showed symptoms.[5] Their number was up to 62 in 1911, but then decreased to 16 in 1921 and only 6 in 1931.[5]

In 1949, any remaining Bo were relocated, with all other surviving Great Andamanese, to a reservation on Bluff island. In 1969 they were moved again to a reservation on Strait Island.[7] By 1980 only three out of the 23 surviving Great Andamanese claimed to belong to the Bo tribe. By 1994 their numbers had grown to 15 (out of 40).[6]

However, tribal identities became largely symbolic in the wake of the relocations. By 2006 the cultural and linguistic identity of the tribe had all but disappeared, due to intermarriage and other factors. The last speaker of the Bo language, a woman named Boa Senior, died at age 85 in late January, 2010.[1][2]


Boa Sr., the last person who remembered any Bo,[8] died on 26 January 2010, at the age of approximately 85.[9]

Boa Sr.'s mother, who died approximately forty years before her death, was the only living speaker of Bo for a long time. Other members of the Great Andamanese speech community had difficulty understanding the songs and narratives which she knew in Bo.[10] She also spoke the Andamanese dialect of Hindi, as well as Great Andamanese, a mix of the ten indigenous languages of Andamans.

Boa Sr. worked with Anvita Abbi, a professor of linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, since 2005. Abbi studied and recorded Boa's language and songs.[10]

Boa Sr. died at a hospital in Port Blair on 26 January 2010.[1] Boa Sr., who was approximately 85 years old, was the oldest living member of the Great Andamanese tribes at the time.[11] Boa Sr.'s death left just 52[1] surviving Great Andamanese people in the world, none of whom remembers any Bo. Their population is greatly reduced from the estimated 5,000 Great Andamanese living in the Andaman Islands at the time of the arrival of the British in 1858.[1]

Stephen Corry, director of the British-based NGO Survival International, issued a statement saying, "With the death of Boa Sr. and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory. Boa's loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman Islands."[12] Linguist Narayan Choudhary also explained what the loss of Boa Sr. meant in both academic and personal terms, "Her loss is not just the loss of the Great Andamanese community, it is a loss of several disciplines of studies put together, including anthropology, linguistics, history, psychology, and biology. To me, Boa Sr. epitomised a totality of humanity in all its hues and with a richness that is not to be found anywhere else."


The Great Andamanese languages are agglutinative languages, with an extensive prefix and suffix system.[4] They have a distinctive noun class system based largely on body parts, in which every noun and adjective may take a prefix according to which body part it is associated with (on the basis of shape, or functional association). Thus, for instance, the *aka- at the beginning of the language names is a prefix for objects related to the tongue.[4] An adjectival example can be given by the various forms of yop, "pliable, soft", in Aka-Bea:[4]

  • A cushion or sponge is ot-yop "round-soft", from the prefix attached to words relating to the head or heart.
  • A cane is ôto-yop, "pliable", from a prefix for long things.
  • A stick or pencil is aka-yop, "pointed", from the tongue prefix.
  • A fallen tree is ar-yop, "rotten", from the prefix for limbs or upright things.

Similarly, beri-nga "good" yields:

  • un-bēri-ŋa "clever" (hand-good).
  • ig-bēri-ŋa "sharp-sighted" (eye-good).
  • aka-bēri-ŋa "good at languages" (tongue-good.)
  • ot-bēri-ŋa "virtuous" (head/heart-good)

The prefixes are:

Bea Balawa? Bajigyâs? Juwoi Kol
head/heart ot- ôt- ote- ôto- ôto-
hand/foot ong- ong- ong- ôn- ôn-
mouth/tongue âkà- aka- o- ókô- o-
torso (shoulder to shins) ab- ab- ab- a- o-
eye/face/arm/breast i-, ig- id- ir- re- er-
back/leg/butt ar- ar- ar- ra- a-
waist ôto-

Body parts are inalienably possessed, requiring a possessive adjective prefix to complete them, so one cannot say "head" alone, but only "my, or his, or your, etc. head".

The basic pronouns are almost identical throughout the Great Andamanese languages; Aka-Bea will serve as a representative example (pronouns given in their basic prefixal forms):

I, my d- we, our m-
thou, thy ŋ- you, your ŋ-
he, his, she, her, it, its a they, their l-

'This' and 'that' are distinguished as k- and t-.

Judging from the available sources, the Andamanese languages have only two cardinal numbersone and two — and their entire numerical lexicon is one, two, one more, some more, and all.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e (2010) Language lost as last member of Andaman tribe dies. The Daily Telegraph, London, 5 February 2010. Accessed on 2010-02-22.
  2. ^ a b (2011) "Lives Remembered". The Daily Telegraph, London, 10 February 2010. Accessed on 2010-02-22. Also on web.archive.org
  3. ^ Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred R. (1922). The Andaman Islanders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ a b c d e Temple, Richard C. (1902). A Grammar of the Andamanese Languages, being Chapter IV of Part I of the Census Report on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Superintendent's Printing Press: Port Blair.
  5. ^ a b c d George Weber (~2009), Numbers Archived May 31, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Chapter 7 in The Andamanese Archived 2012-08-05 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed on 2012-07-12.
  6. ^ a b A. N. Sharma (2003), Tribal Development in the Andaman Islands, page 62. Sarup & Sons, New Delhi.
  7. ^ Rann Singh Mann (2005), Andaman and Nicobar Tribes Restudied: Encounters and Concerns, page 149. Mittal Publications. ISBN 81-8324-010-0
  8. ^ "GA Community". Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese (VOGA). Retrieved 2011-01-21.
  9. ^ "Obituary for Boa Sr". Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese (VOGA). Archived from the original on 10 February 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  10. ^ a b "People of Great Andamanese". Andamanese.net. 2009-02-22. Archived from the original on February 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  11. ^ "Language lost as last member of Andaman tribe dies". The Daily Telegraph. 2010-02-05. Retrieved 2010-02-22.
  12. ^ Watt, Jonathan (2010-02-04). "Ancient tribal language becomes extinct as last speaker dies". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-02-22.

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