Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Andamanese Phrasebook

Some time ago, I found a copy of perhaps the only five-language phrasebook for the Andaman Islands. The Andaman Islands are a remote island group south of Burma belonging to India. Up to the 19th century, they were inhabited by a number of tribes with Stone Age technology, no significant contact with the outside world, and languages extremely different from any spoken anywhere else. Some of their descendants remain there today, but are a tiny minority except in a couple of areas in the south, and most of their languages are extinct. This phrasebook was written by one A. J. Portman in 1887, when the islands had been turned into a British penal colony, for the use of government officials. Some of the entries paint an interesting picture of life in the colony; for economy's sake, I have given only the Aka-Bea equivalents.

"That woman is wearing his skull." Kát apáil lá ót chetta ngāūrók-ké.

"Some convicts have escaped, you must search for them." Jó chāōga lá kájré, áb átaká."

"This village is very dirty." Ká báraij lót láda-da.

"You will be bitten by sandflies and mosquitoes." Nyípá, ól bédig téil ngáb chá-pinga.

"Don't sing, or there will be a storm." Ngódá rámitóyo-ngayábada, élér-wulké.

"He is a boy, and may not eat turtle." Kát áká kádekada, óda yádi mék-nga yábada.

"Do you eat grubs alive?" Án wai ngó butu ligátí mék?"

"You must bring them in by force." Ngó ítár pórawa.

And finally:

"Is there anyone here who understands his language?" Tén kárin míjólá áká teggí gádí-áté?"

They just don't make phrasebooks like this any more...


Tim May said...

Ah, the Andamans. Fascinating area. What's particularly interesting is North Sentinel Island, home of perhaps the most culturally isolated community on Earth. They've had virtually no peaceful contact with the outside world. The island was nearly worthless and almost totally inaccessable, and the Sentineli attacked anyone who landed, so generations of administrators left them to their own devices. There were some visits in the 1990s in which exploratory parties would leave gifts on the beach, and the Sentineli would come get them, and did not always open fire on the visitors, but these have apparently ceased.

It's uncertain how the Sentineli have weathered the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.

Aidan Kehoe said...

My „Tadschikische Studiengrammatik“ (published in the last five years or so) is not quite as colourful as that phrasebook in its examples, but there is very definitely a flavour of life in the corresponding part of the world to it. So these books haven't all died out.