Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 1:7 November 2001
Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editor: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.

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V. R. Rajasingh, Ph.D.


The Jarawa is one of the five preliterate tribes found in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India. The Jarawa people live in the jungles of Middle and Southern part of Great Andaman Island. They are nomadic hunter-gatherers and subsist on tubers, animals, fish and shells available in the forest and sea. Their population is estimated as 300. Their hostile attitude towards the neighboring non-Jarawa population and the fear psychosis internalized by the non-Jarawa population about the Jarawa people has been a stumbling block for undertaking a holistic study of the Jarawa language. However, some meaningful verbal communication was established with the Jarawa people in 1996. This was followed by the frequent visits of the Jarawa people to the non-Jarawa settlements. The reciprocal friendliness extended to them by the non-Jarawa peoples set the stage for undertaking some fieldwork among the Jarawa people in order to work out an outline grammar of the Jarawa language.

Ethnologists have classified the Jarawa people as belonging to the Negrito stock of the Negroid human race. Anthropologists suggest that the Jarawa people are a sub-set of the Onge people group of the Little Andaman Island, who have migrated to the Great Andaman Island. There is corroborating linguistic evidence to support the views of the anthropologists as the language spoken by the Jarawa shows considerable resemblance to the language or dialect spoken by the Onge people.

The study of the Jarawa language dates back to some decades. But a comprehensive statement on the structure of the language incorporating its phonological, morphological, and syntactic features has not be done yet. The present paper is a step towards fulfilling this gap.


There are 13 vowel phonemes and 26 consonant phonemes identified in Jarawa.

The vowels are as follows:

/i/, /ii/, /u/, /uu/, /e/, / ee /, / o /, / oo /, / æ /, / ∂ /, / ∂ ∂ /, / a /, and / aa /.

Examples for the vowels are given below. Please note that /Ñ/ is used to represent the velar nasal.

Vowel Example Meaning
/i/ iliyema Not Seen
/ii/ iineen Non-Jarawa, non-Negrito person
/u/ ulluka Hot
/uu/ uun∂ To come/to go
/e/ enmen Personal name
/ee/ eeyaab To leave for other territory
in search of food
/o/ oDgijjaab Young woman
/oo/ oonaaD∂ Who/what
/æ/ ñæykweTa Younger brother/younger sister
/∂/ ∂jj∂ll∂ To urinate
/∂∂/ ∂∂Ñ Jarawa
/a/ aNb∂ha To catch
/aa/ aallema To return


Jarawa has 26 consonant phonemes. Please note that /η/ is used to represent the dental nasal. T, D, Th, D, L, and N represent the respective retroflex sounds. Please note that /Ñ/ is used to represent the velar nasal.

Consonant Description Example Meaning
/p/ bilabial vl. plosive p∂∂p∂ Leaf used for thatching roof
/ph/ bilabial vl. asp. plosive ph∂∂Te To disappear
/b/ bilabial vd. plosive buccu Vessel
/t/ dental vl. plosive taapo Want
/th/ dental vl. asp. plosive pootho Net-basket
/d/ dental vd. plosive daaw Boy
/T/ retroflex vl. plosive TooTaale Earth
/Th/ retroflex vl. asp. plosive buuTh Near
/D/ retroflex vd. plosive Daag Coconut
/c/ palatal vl. affricate caawaaya To walk
/j/ palatal vd. affricate taajilo To stitch/to operate upon
/k/ velar vl. plosive kaaÑaapo Cloth
/g/ velar vd. plosive g∂r∂taamya Weak
/m/ bilabial nasal miÑaab A place in the
in the South Andaman Island
/η/ dental nasal ηaapo Fish
/n/ alveolar nasal naDDem No/not
/N/ retroflex nasal yooNo Non-Jarawa Negrito person
/ñ/ palatal nasal ñoño To suck
/Ñ/ velar nasal Ñi You
/l/ alveolar lateral lelele Shell necklace
/L/ retroflex lateral aallaam Red ochre
/φ / bilabial fricative φuuwaayeeba To tell lies
/r/ alveolar fricative ∂rug∂yyi Crocodile
/h/ glottal fricative hiiruuga Black
/w/ bilabial semivowel woww∂ Pig
/y/ palatal semivowel yaan∂ Egg

In the next part I propose to present the morphological structure of the Jarawa language.

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V. R. Rajasingh, Ph.D.
Central Institue of Indian Languages
Mysore, 570006. India