Jarawa language (Andaman Islands)

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Native to India
Region Andaman Islands; interior and south central Rutland island, central interior and south interior of South Andaman island, Middle Andaman island, west coast, 70 square km reserve.
Ethnicity Jarawa
Native speakers
270 (2001–2002)[1]
Literacy rate in L1: Below 1%.
  • Jarawa
Dialects None known
Language codes
ISO 639-3 anq
Glottolog jara1245[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Järawa or Jarwa is an Ongan language spoken by the Jarawa people of the interior and south central Rutland Island, central interior and south interior South Andaman Island, and the west coast of Middle Andaman Island.[3]

Järawa means "foreigners" in Aka-Bea, the language of their traditional enemies. Like many peoples, they call themselves aong, "people".

The Jarawa language of the Andaman Islands is considered vulnerable.[4]


Jarawa is a language used mainly by hunter-gatherer communities who would live along the western coast of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[5]

The Jarawas are hostile towards outsiders and are sometimes accessible to Indian linguists.[6]

The Jarawas are the only remaining Negrito remnants of the Andaman Islands out of four. Other than being having a history as traditional hunter-forager-fishermen, they also had reputations as warriors and uncompromising defenders of their territory. The Jarawas lived through lived through British encroachment in the 19th century, as well as Japanese occupation later on.[7]

Jarawas currently have a population of 270 remaining. Their primary threat is a highway, Andaman Trunk Road, running through their territory and reserve of 1,028 square kilometers of dense evergreen forests.[8]

The ancestors of the Jarawa are thought to have been part of the first successful human migrations out of Africa. However several hundred thousand Indian settlers now live on the islands, outnumbering the tribes.[8]

Geographic Distribution[edit]

Official Status[edit]

Jarawa is an official language in India, specifically the Andaman Islands. There is also a different type of language called Jarawa in Nigeria.

No dialects or varieties are known to have stemmed or derived from the Jarawa language.[9]

Sounds and Phonology[edit]

There are two varieties of Jarawa languages. One is spoken in the northern Middle Andaman and southern Middle Andaman.[10]

Jarawa contains 41 sounds, 28 consonants and 13 vowels. along with possible additional retroflexes, aspirates, and/or another vowel phoneme.[11]

The language stems from a parent language known as Proto-Andamanese. From within this wide range, Little Andamanese also stems. Within Little Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa, and Sentinelese all stem, thus having similar characteristics in culture and language.[12]


Front Central Back
Close i   u
Close-mid e o
Mid   ə  
Open   a  

The language of Jarawa uses close (high), mid, and open to distinguish between the height of the vowels. For the tongue position, they characterize vowels as front, central, and back. For the position of lips, vowels are characterized as rounded or unrounded. The one vowel that characterizes as a high-mid central unrounded vowel is [ᵼ][5]

Vowels in the language can be classified into three groups:

  1. Two front vowels - [i] and [e]
  2. Two back vowels - [u] and [o]
  3. Three Central Vowels - [ᵼ], [ə], and [a]

There are also 2 mid-low vowels, [ɛ] and [ɔ], but their phonemic status is not deciphered yet. Because their occurrences are very limited, it is unclear how often they are used and their status.

Length is very important in this language as they have short and long vowels.   [5]


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab.
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t c k
voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Fricative h (hʷ)
Trill r
Approximant l j w


Among all the 28 consonants, voiced and voiceless plosives are present along with voiceless aspirated plosives. Sounds like nasals, trill and retroflex flap, lateral and retroflex laterals all occur in this language.

There are also 2 approximates, labial and palatal. Along with a few fricatives like pharyngeal fricative and the bilabial fricative. Two labialised consonants also exist such as the pharyngeal fricative and voiceless aspirated velar plosive.[5]

Word-initial contrast between /p/ and /b/ is disappearing, with /p/ becoming /b/ (note that in Onge /p/ is not phonemically present).[6]

Jarawa words are at least monosyllabic, and content words are at least bimoraic.[6] Maximal syllables are CVC.[6]

/c/ voices intervocalically in derived environments, /ə/ syncopates when followed by another vowel across a morpheme boundary, /ə/ becomes [o] when the next syllable has a round vowel, and whole syllables may be deleted in fast speech.[6]



In terms of affixation, Jarawa has simple morphology as it takes prefixes and suffixes. The two kinds of prefixes are:

  • One which is pronominal which attaches to verbs, adjectives, and nouns
  • One which indicates definiteness or referentiality, and attaches only to verbs.

Suffixes are aimed to convey plurality when attached to nouns or express mood, modality, and evidentiality when attached to verbs. When attaching to adjectives, they may denote either state or evidentiality as well.[5]

In Jarawa, a morpheme can be a free root which exists independently such as in the case of /napo/ meaning 'fish'. It can also be a bounded root which occurs with obligatory prefixes as in ən-oɖə meaning 'hair'. Verbs such as ən-ətəhə meaning 'sit' can be a bound root. In both cases, either the nominal root for 'hair' or verbal root for 'sit', cannot occur independently if they refer to human beings. A bound root must be prefixed with some morpheme.[5]

Jarawa has been discovered to have six kinds of word classes:

  • Nouns
  • Verbs
  • Pronouns
  • Adjectives
  • Adverbs
  • Postposition

Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are open classes where nouns and verbs are abundant and adjectives and adverbs are few in number. Postpositions and pronouns are closed classes with a small number of lexemes. The order of number of words in each class in increasing order are as follows: postposition, pronoun, adverb, adjective, verb, and noun.

There are three kinds of pronouns: personal pronouns (pronominals), demonstrative pronouns, and interrogative pronouns. First person form of personal pronouns are 'mi', second person form is 'ŋi ~ ni ~ ən', and third person form is 'hi ~ əhi'.    [5]


Jarawa uses two different types of clausal structures: verbless clauses where nominals or adjectives function as head of the predicate and verbal clauses where verbs are the head of the predicate, with core arguments. Both types of clauses have different morphological and syntactic structures.[5]

In yes or no questions, all questions start with ka. The schema is presented as: ka + [subject] + [object]+ Verb].

Onəhə-le can either mean 'what is being done' or 'why'. ŋi onəhə-le means 'What are you doing?' and ŋi onəhə-le ɖ-ičhe means 'Why did you do that?'[5]

Writing System[edit]

The Jarawas have no system of writing. In observed designs, wavy lines would represent the sea and therefore only drawings or pictures would be drawn to communicate. [7]

Everyday Usage Examples[5][edit]

These signify the contrast between vowel /i/ and /u/:

  • /hiɽu/  = 'black'
  • /innə-gə cew/ = 'smells good
  • /hulu/ = 'hot'
  • /unnə/ = 'return home'

These signify the contrast between vowel /e/ and /o/:

  • /tape/ = 'moon'
  • /tapo/ = 'good'

These signify the contrast between /o/ and /a/:

  • /topo/ = 'snake'
  • /tapo/ = 'good'

These signify the contrast between vowel /a/ and /ə/:

  • /hwawə/ = 'watercourse'
  • /hwəwə/ = 'wild boar'

Common Phrases[edit]

mi bəᵼʈhe-jə : I/We are going.

mi omohə : I/We sleep.

mi ŋ-əjojəba : I saw you.

Kinship Terms[edit]

Father: ummə

Mother: kaja

Husband: a:gi

Wife: əŋa:p

Elder Sister: a:mi

Elder Brother: a:pə

Son/Daughter: ajə

Younger brother/sister: aikhwaʈə 


  1. ^ Chittaranjan Kumar Paty & Forest, government, and tribe (2007:102)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Jarawa (India)". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Kumar, Pramod (2012). "Descriptive and Typological Study of Jarawa" (PDF). 
  4. ^ "Endangered Languages Project: Jarawa". 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kumar, Pramod (2012). "Descriptive and Typological Study of Jarawa" (PDF). 
  6. ^ a b c d e Blevins (2007:161)
  7. ^ a b "Palaeolithic Cognitive Inheritance in Aesthetic Behavior of the Jarawas of the Andaman Islands". 
  8. ^ a b "Jarawa History" (PDF). 
  9. ^ Cite error: The named reference :2 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  10. ^ "A Grammar of the Great Andamanese Language: An Ethnolinguistic Study". 
  11. ^ Blevins (2007:160–161)
  12. ^ "A Bibliographical Introduction to Andamanese Linguistics.". 


  • Blevins, Juliette (2007), "A Long Lost Sister of Proto-Austronesian? Proto-Ongan, Mother of Jarawa and Onge of the Andaman Islands", Oceanic Linguistics, 46 (1): 154–198, doi:10.1353/ol.2007.0015 
  • Kumar, Pramod (2012), "Descriptive and Typological Study of Jarawa." Jawaharlal Nehru University (2012): 1-360. Web.
  • "Jarawa." Database for Indigenous Cultural Evolution. 1-8. Web.
  • Conant, F. (1961). Jarawa Kin Systems of Reference and Address: A Componential Comparison. Anthropological Linguistics, 3(2), 19-33. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30022298
  • Sreenathan, M., Rao, V., & Bednarik, R. (2008). Palaeolithic Cognitive Inheritance in Aesthetic Behavior of the Jarawas of the Andaman Islands. Anthropos, 103(2), 367-392. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40467418
  • Zide, N., & Pandya, V. (1989). A Bibliographical Introduction to Andamanese Linguistics. Journal of the American Oriental Society,109(4), 639-651. doi:10.2307/604090
  • Sarkar, S. (1962). The Jarawa of the Andaman Islands. Anthropos, 57(3/6), 670-677. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40455833
  • Abbi, A. (2013). A Grammar of the Great Andamanese Language: An Ethnolinguistic Study.
  • Earl, George Windsor. 1853. The Native Races of the Indian Archipelago: The Papuans. (The Ethnographical Library, I.) London: Hippolyte Bailliere. 140pp.
  • William Marsden. 1834. On the Polynesian, or East-Insular languages. In Miscellaneous Works, 1-117. London: Parbury, Allen and Co.
  • Sreenathan, M. 2001. The Jarawas: Language and Culture. Calcutta: Anthropological Survey of India, Government of India. 108pp.
  • R. Senkuttuvan. 2000. The Language of the Jarawa (Phonology). Calcutta: Anthropological Survey of India, Government of India. iv+56pp.
  • Richard C. Temple. 1903. Languages. In The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 96-138. Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Press.
  • Nair, V. S. 1979. A note on the language of Jarawas. Bulletin of the Anthropological Survey of India 28. 17-38.
  • R. S. Mann. 1973. Jarawas of Andaman - An analysis of hostility. Man in India 53. 201-220.
  • Cipriani, Lidio. 1959. The Jarawa Problem. Bulletin of the Bihar Tribal Research Institute, Ranchi 1. 43-55.
  • R. H. Colebrooke. 1795. On the Andaman Islands. Asiatick Researches 4. 385-395.
  • P. C. Coomar. 1994. Jarawa. In T. N. Pandit and B. N. Sarkar (eds.), Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 81-86. Madras: Anthropological Survey of India.

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "Glottolog: Language: Jarawa (India)".