A tribal language thought to have existed for 65,000 years has disappeared forever in India's Andaman Islands, taken to the grave with its last speaker. According to the indigenous advocacy group Survival International, Boa Senior, the last member of the Bo tribe, died last week at the age of 85.

"With the death of Boa Sr. and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory," said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International.

One of the 10 Great Andamanese tribes that are considered indigenous inhabitants of these islands 700 miles east of the Indian mainland, the Bo tribe spoke a language which is thought to date back to pre-Neolithic times and possibly to the first settlement of the region by modern humans.

Boa, a survivor of the Asian tsunami of 2004, lived in the Strait Island of Andaman in a concrete and tin hut provided by the government. After the death of her parents, she remained the last Bo speaker for 30 to 40 years. She had no children, and her husband died several years ago. Singing in an almost hypnotic language, she was very lonely as she had no one to converse with.

COMMENT: I'm not so certain that it has disappeared for

good. It sounds an awful lot like Welsh to me - another
very primitive language.



  1. was there really no student of linguistics or anthropology anywhere in the world willing to sit down and let this woman teach him/her the language? …

    If the government can give her a tin hut, surely this could have been arranged? Someone has bothered to record her, after all.

    Why aren’t I in charge of these things.

  2. With 90% of the world’s languages threatened with extinction by the end of the century, these mostly spoken by marginalized peoples living in remote areas, most will go unrecorded. She was probably lucky to get a tin hut, never mind a linguist to pay her any mind (much as some linguist somewhere might have loved to have gotten to her). And even if someone gets around to writing a grammar and recording a few stories, the language is still dead. The culture and world view and the people it represented and expressed will be gone. Languages are living, breathing things, and the record of a dead language is a like a stuffed dodo in a museum.

  3. Wilfried, absolutely, your point is a good and practical one, but I still wish that a record had been preserved. And I like dodoes, if it comes to that. I would be quite happy to keep a stuffed dodo around in my house.

  4. I would be quite happy to keep a stuffed dodo around in my house.

    Brilliant! We were wondering what to do with Rowan Williams when he retires.

    (Have you noticed how much sharper my humour gets when I am really depressed? It’s weird.)

  5. A stuffed dodo, yes. Rowan Williams hanging round the house? I’ll have to give that some thought.

    MP – please don’t be depressed.

  6. I suppose Welsh is primitive for the usual reasons – it isn’t English and you can’t understand it. Primitive suits me fine.