Last week we had a lecture from Anvita Abbi on rare linguistic structures in Great Andamanese – a language spoken in the Andaman Islands. The indigenous populations of the Andaman Islands lived in isolation for tens of thousands of years until the 19th Century, but still exhibit some common features of south-east Asian languages such as retroflex consonants. This could be evidence for the migration route of humans from India to Australia. Indeed, recent genetic research has shown that the Andamanese are descendants of the first human migration from Africa in the Palaeolithic, though Abbi suggested that the linguistic evidence is also a strong marker of human migration and an “important repository of our shared human history and civilization”.
Although the similarities are fascinating for studies of cultural evolution, the rarity of some structures in Great Andamanese are even more intriguing.