The endangered Onge language of Andaman Islands

Onge is a language that is spoken in the Andaman Islands. The number of Onge speakers has steadily declined since the 19th century. There are about 94 speakers left. These speakers can mostly be found on the northeastern parts of the island. Due to the low number of speakers, Onge is classified as an endangered language. Onge was once a popular Indian language that was spoken throughout the Andaman Island. However, various factors led to its decline. This includes the infiltration of foreigners into the island after the coming of the British settlers. This resulted in Onge mixing with other Indian languages. Subsequently, people began learning other languages such as English and other Indian languages at the expense of Onge and other Andamese languages. The Onge are also said to be among the least fertile people in the world, leading to low population growth. Approximately 40% of married couples are sterile, while the infant mortality rate stands at 40%.

Onge is also written as Ung, Eng, Ongee and Önge. Onge is an Andamese language. Other Andamese languages include Great Andamese, Jangil, Jarawa and Sentinelese. Onge is closely related to the Jarawa language. The Andamese are the original inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, which is a district in India. The Andamese are believed to be hunter gatherers who migrated thousands of years ago from Africa into Southeast Asia. There were about 7,000 Andamese by the end of the 18th century. Currently, due to illness, colonialism and loss of their territory, there are about 400-500 Andamese left.

The Onge, together with other Andamese tribes and other tribes in East Asia comprises the Negrito group of people. Most Andamese speakers can also speak other Indian languages well. They normally combine their native language with other Indian languages. Most Onge words end in vowels, except in a few cases. The Onge counting system is quite simple. It has words for one, two or more. A number of things have to be done so as to protect this endangered language. Pratibha Patil, the Indian president said that one of the measures that can be taken is to translate the available Indian literature into other minor languages in the country, such as Onge.

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