Ongan languages

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South Andamanese
Andaman Islands
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families
Ongan languages.png
Distribution of the Ongan languages prior to 1850 (Fig. 1) and in 2005 (Fig. 2)

Ongan, also called Angan,[1] South Andamanese or Jarawa–Onge, is a phylum of two Andamanese languages, Önge and Jarawa, spoken in the southern Andaman Islands.

The two known extant languages are:

  • Önge or Onge (⟨ö⟩ transcribes /ə/); 96 speakers (Onge) in 1997, mostly monolingual
  • Jarawa or Järawa; estimated at 200 speakers (Jarawa) in 1997, monolingual
  • A third language, Sentinelese, the presumed language of the Sentinelese people, is thought to be related to the Ongan languages, but this is uncertain, as very little is known about the Sentinelese; estimated 15–500 speakers.
  • Another language, Jangil, extinct sometime between 1895 and 1920, is reported to have been unintelligible with but to have had noticeable connections with Jarawa.

External relationships[edit]

The Andamanese languages fall into two clear families, Great Andamanese and Ongan, plus one presumed but unattested language, Sentinelese. The similarities between Great Andamanese and Ongan are mainly of a typological and morphological nature, with little demonstrated common vocabulary. Linguists, including long-range researchers such as Joseph Greenberg, have expressed doubts as to the validity of Andamanese as a family.[2]

It has since been proposed (by Juliette Blevins 2007) that Ongan (but not Great Andamanese) is distantly related to Austronesian in a family called Austronesian–Ongan,[3] but the proposal has not been well received by Austronesianists. Robert Blust (2014) finds that Blevins' conclusions are not supported by her data: Of her first 25 reconstructions that Blust analyzes, none are reproducible using the comparative method. Blust concludes that the grammatical comparison does not hold up. Blust also discusses non-linguistic (such as cultural, archaeological, and biological) evidence against Blevins' hypothesis.[4]


The two attested Ongan languages are relatively close, and the historical sound reconstruction mostly straightforward:

Proto-Ongan consonant correspondences[5]
Proto-Ongan *p *b *t *d *kʷ *k *j *w *c *m *n *l *r
Jarawa p, b b t d hʷ, h h ɡ, j j w c ɟ m n ɲ ŋ l r
Onge b b t, d d, r kʷ, h k, ɡ ɡ, Ø j w c, ɟ ɟ m n ɲ ŋ l, j r/j/l, Ø
Proto-Ongan vowel correspondences in open nonfinal syllables[5]
Proto-Ongan *i *u *a *e *o (*ə)
Jarawa i u a e, ə, o o (ə)
Onge i u a e, ə, o o (ə)

*ə appears to be allophonic for *e before a nasal coda.


The Ongan languages are agglutinative, with an extensive prefix and suffix system.[6][7] They have a 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).[8] Another peculiarity of terms for body parts is that they 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".[8]

The Ongan pronouns are here represented by Önge:

I, my m- we, our et-, ot-
thou, thy ŋ- you, your n-
he, his, she, her, it, its g- they, their ekw-, ek-, ok-

There is also an indefinite prefix ən-, on- "someone's". Jarawa does not have the plural series, but the singular is very close: m-, ŋ- or n-, w-, ən-. From this, Blevins reconstructs Proto-Ongan *m-, *ŋ-, *gw-, *en-.

Judging from the available sources, the Andamanese languages have only two cardinal numbers: one and two and their entire numerical lexicon is one, two, one more, some more, and all.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abbi, Anvita. 2013. A Grammar of the Great Andamanese Language. Brill's Studies in South and Southwest Asian Languages, Volume 4.
  2. ^ Greenberg, Joseph (1971). "The Indo-Pacific Hypothesis." Current Trends in Linguistics Vol. 8, ed. by Thomas A. Sebeok, 807.71. The Hague: Mouton.
  3. ^ Blevins, Juliette (2007), "A Long Lost Sister of Proto-Austronesian? Proto-Ongan, Mother of Jarawa and Onge of the Andaman Islands" (PDF), Oceanic Linguistics, 46 (1): 154–198, doi:10.1353/ol.2007.0015, S2CID 143141296
  4. ^ Robert Blust (2014) "Some Recent Proposals Concerning the Classification of the Austronesian Languages", Oceanic Linguistics 53:2:300–391.
  5. ^ a b Blevins (2007), pp. 163–164.
  6. ^ Abbi, Anvita (2006). Endangered Languages of the Andaman Islands. Lincom Europa. ISBN 978-3-89586-866-5.
  7. ^ a b 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. Port Blair: Superintendent's Printing Press.
  8. ^ a b Burenhult, Niclas (1996). "Deep Linguistic Prehistory with Particular Reference to Andamanese". Working Papers, Lund University, Dept. Of Linguistics. 45: 5–24.

Further reading[edit]

  • Das Gupta, D. and S. R. Sharma. A Handbook of the Önge Language. Anthropological Survey of India: Calcutta 1982.
  • E. H. Man, Dictionary of the South Andaman Language, British India Press: Bombay 1923.
  • Senkuttuvan, R. 2000. The Language of the Jarawa: Phonology. Calcutta: Anthropological Survey of India, Government of India, Ministry of Culture, Youth Affairs, and Sports, Dept. of Culture.
  • Sreenathan, M. 2001. Jarwa - Language and Culture. Anthropological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, Kolkata

External links[edit]