No country for old tongues
Posted by schrisomalis on February 7, 2010
We all know how obsessed you are with the oldest of anything. But please, stop. You are doing a grave disservice to languages by saying things like ‘A tribal language thought to have existed for 65,000 years has disappeared forever’ or ‘Languages in the Andamans are thought to originate from Africa. Some may be 70,000 years old.’ This is utter nonsense, even if you find a scholar to tell you otherwise. All languages are always changing, and although some may change more rapidly than others, the idea that a language could persist essentially unchanged for multiple millennia is pure bunk. The idea that we can assign exact ages to languages (other than recent inventions) is even more ridiculous. The only ancient languages are the ones actually spoken in the past, and all currently spoken languages have equally long histories. It is a great tragedy that the Bo language has gone extinct, as it is when, every other week or so, another language goes extinct on this planet. It is a tragedy regardless of how long the language has been spoken, because it represents the end of a particular part of the modern world’s cultural diversity. Your attempt to sensationalize this story by exoticizing indigenous peoples as primitives lost in time is unwelcome and counterproductive. Let me help:
The Bo (Aka-Bo) language was a member of the Northern branch of the Greater Andamanese language subfamily. With its extinction, only one Greater Andamanese language, A-Pucikwar, has any remaining known speakers, and it is highly endangered. The ten Great Andamanese and three South Andamanese languages are all related to one another, although the exact relationships among them remain unclear, but there is no known relationship between the Andamanese languages and any other languages of the world. Their importance for linguistics is that they may represent descendants of the languages of the original migrants to the Andaman Islands many millennia ago, and if we were able to reconstruct the Proto-Andamanese language, potentially to better understand the population and migration history of the Indian Ocean. Their importance for their remaining speakers is inestimably greater.