Languages of India
|Languages of India|
|Official languages||English • Hindi (Central Union Government and some state governments) • Assamese • Bengali • Bodo • Dogri • Gujarati • Kannada • Kashmiri • Konkani • Maithili • Malayalam • Manipuri • Marathi • Nepali • Oriya • Punjabi • Sanskrit • Santhali • Sindhi • Tamil • Telugu • Tulu • Urdu|
|Sign languages||Indo-Pakistani Sign Language
Alipur Sign Language
Naga Sign Language (extinct)
|Part of a series on the|
There are several languages in India belonging to different language families, the major ones being the Indo-Aryan languages spoken by 75% of Indians and the Dravidian languages spoken by 20% of Indians. Other languages spoken in India belong to the Austroasiatic, Tibeto-Burman, a few minor language families and isolates.:283 More than three millennia of language contact has led to significant mutual influence among the four predominant language families in mainland India and South Asia.
The official languages of the Union Government of the Republic of India are Hindi in the Devanagari script and English. The Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution lists 22 languages, which have been referred to as scheduled languages and given recognition, status and official encouragement. In addition, the Government of India has awarded the distinction of classical language to Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Odia (formerly known as Oriya).
According to Census of India of 2001, India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages. However, figures from other sources vary, primarily due to differences in definition of the terms "language" and "dialect". The 2001 Census recorded 30 languages which were spoken by more than a million native speakers and 122 which were spoken by more than 10,000 people. Two contact languages have played an important role in the history of India: Persian and English. Hindi, the most widely spoken language in India today, serves as a lingua franca for much of the country.
- 1 History
- 2 Inventories
- 3 Language families
- 4 Official languages
- 5 Prominent languages of India
- 6 Classical languages
- 7 Other local languages and dialects
- 8 Language conflicts
- 9 Writing systems
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The northern Indian languages from the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family evolved from Old Indic by way of the Middle Indic Prakrit languages and Apabhraṃśa of the Middle Ages. The Indo-Aryan languages developed and emerged in three stages - Old Indo-Aryan (1500 BCE to 600 BCE), Middle Indo-Aryan stage (600 BCE and 1OOO CE) and New Indo-Aryan (between 1000 CE and 1300 CE).
Modern north Indian languages, such as Hindi (or more correctly, Hindustani), Assamese (Asamiya), Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Rajasthani and Oriya (Odia), evolved into distinct, recognisable languages in the New Indo-Aryan Age.
Persian or Pharsi was brought into India by the Ghaznavi and other Perso-Turkic dynasties as the court language. Persian influenced the art, history and literature of the region for more than 500 years, resulting in the Indianisation of the language as well Persianisation of many Indian tongues. In 1837, the British replaced Persian with English for administrative purposes, and the Hindi movement of the 19th Century replaced the Persianised vocabulary for one derived from Sanskrit also replacing the use of the Perso-Arabic script for Hindi/Hindustani with Devanagari.
Each of the northern Indian languages had different influences. For example, Hindustani was strongly influenced by Sanskrit and Persian, with these influences leading to the emergence of Modern Standard Hindi and Modern Standard Urdu as registers of the Hindustani language. Modern Standard Hindi is recognised as the official language of India while Urdu is a scheduled language.
The Dravidian languages of South India had a history independent of Sanskrit. The major Dravidian language are Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam and Tulu. Though Malayalam and Telugu are Dravidian in origin, over eighty percent of their lexicon is borrowed from Sanskrit. The Telugu script can reproduce the full range of Sanskrit phonetics without losing any of the text's originality, whereas the Malayalam script includes graphemes capable of representing all the sounds of Sanskrit and all Dravidian languages. The Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman languages of North-East India also have long independent histories.
As regards to linguistics, the earliest instance in history is Panini's Sanskrit grammar dated to ca. 400 BCE. This work and those of commentators on this book, Patanjali (250 BCE) and Katyayana (150 BCE), form a linguistic canon which profoundly influenced linguistic form, semantics, philosophy and development in the centuries to come. In addition, these works provided the broad format for Indian religious and philosophical literature in later times, i.e., the original text in the form of aphorisms (sutras) followed by commentary in the form of text (bhasya).
The first official survey of language diversity in the Indian subcontinent was carried out by Sir G.A. Grierson from 1898 to 1928. Titled the Linguistic Survey of India, it reported a total of 179 languages and 544 dialects. However, the results were skewed due to ambiguities in distinguishing between "dialect" and "language", use of untrained personnel and under-reporting of data from South India, as the former provinces of Burma and Madras, as well as the princely states of Cochin, Hyderabad, Mysore and Travancore were not included in the survey.
Different sources give widely differing figures, primarily based on how the terms "language" and "dialect" are defined and grouped. Ethnologue, poduced by the Christian evangelist organisation SIL International, lists 461 tongues for India (out of 6,912 worldwide), 447 of which are living, while 14 are extinct. The 461 living languages are further subclassified in Ethnologue as follows:- 
- Institutional - 63.
- Developing - 130.
- Vigorous - 187
- In trouble - 54.
- Dying - 13.
The People’s Linguistic Survey of India, a privately-owned research institution in India, has recorded over 66 different scripts and more than 780 languages in India during its nation-wide survey, which the organisation claims to be the biggest linguistic survey in India.
Census of India figures
The Census of India records and publishes data with respect to the number of speakers for languages and dialects, but uses its own unique terminology, distinguishing between "language" and "mother tongue". The "mother tongues" are grouped within each "language". Many "mother tongues" so defined could be considered a language rather than a dialect by linguistic standards. This is especially so for many 'mother tongues' with tens of millions of speakers that are officially grouped under the 'language' Hindi.
The 1961 census recognized 1,652 mother tongues spoken by 438,936,918 people, counting all declarations made by any individual at the time when the census was conducted. However, the declaring individuals often mixed names of languages with those of dialects, sub-dialects and dialect clusters or even castes, professions, religions, localities, regions, countries and nationalities. The list therefore includes "languages" with barely a few individual speakers as well as 530 unclassified "mother tongues" and more than 100 idioms that are non-native to India, including linguistically unspecific demonyms such as "African", "Canadian" or "Belgian".
The 1991 census recognizes 1,576 classified "mother tongues". According to the 1991 census, 22 'languages' had more than a million native speakers, 50 had more than 100,000 and 114 had more than 10,000 native speakers. The remaining accounted for a total of 566,000 native speakers (out of a total of 838 million Indians in 1991).
According to the most recent census of 2001, there are 1365 rationalised mother tongues, 234 identifiable mother-tongues and 122 major languages. Of these, 29 'languages' have more than a million native speakers, 60 have more than 100,000 and 122 have more than 10,000 native speakers. There are a few languages like Kodava and Tulu that do not have a script but have a group of native speakers in Coorg (Kodagu) and Dakshina Kannada.
The language-related data results of the 2011 Census have not yet been released by the Government of India.
Ethnolinguistically, the languages of South Asia, echoing the complex history and geography of the region, form a complex patchwork of language families, language phyla and isolates.:283 The languages of India belong to several language families, the most important of which are :
- Indo-Aryan language family.
- Dravidian language family.
- Austroasiatic language family.
- Tibeto-Burman language family.
- Great Andamanese languages.
Indo-Aryan language family
The largest of the language families represented in India, in terms of speakers, is the Indo-Aryan language family, a branch of the Indo-Iranian family, itself the easternmost, extant subfamily of the Indo-European language family. This language family predominates, accounting for some 790 million speakers, or over 75% of the population, as per data collated during the Census of 2001. The most widely spoken languages of this group are Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese and Oriya. Aside from the Indo-Aryan languages, other Indo-European languages are also spoken in India, the most prominent of which is English, as a lingua franca, the rest being minority languages such as Persian, Portuguese and French.
Dravidian language family
The second largest language family is the Dravidian language family, accounting for some 215 million speakers, or approximately 20%, as per data collated during the Census of 2001. The Dravidian languages are spoken mainly in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in parts of northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Dravidian languages with the most speakers are Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada. Besides the mainstream population, Dravidian languages are also spoken by small scheduled tribe communities, such as the Oraon and Gond tribes. Only two Dravidian languages are exclusively spoken outside India, Brahui in Pakistan and Dhangar, a dialect of Kurukh, in Nepal.
Austroasiatic language family
The Austroasiatic language family (austro meaning South) is the autochthonous language in South Asia and Southeast Asia, other language families having arrived by migration. Austroasiatic languages of mainland India are the Khasi and Munda languages, including Santhali. The languages of the Nicobar islands also form part of this language family. With the exceptions of Khasi and Santhali, all Austroasiatic languages on Indian territory are endangered.:456–457
Tibeto-Burman language family
The Tibeto-Burman languages, a subfamily of Sino-Tibetan language family, comprising those languages of that language family not related to Chinese, are well represented in India. However, their inter-se relationships are not discernible, and the family has been described as "a patch of leaves on the forest floor" rather than with the conventional metaphor of a "family tree".:283–5
Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken across the Himalayas in the regions of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, and also in the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, (hills and autonomous councils - BTC) Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram. Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in India include Karbi, Meitei, Lepcha, as well as many varieties of several related Tibetic, West Himalayish, Tani, Brahmaputran, Angami–Pochuri, Tangkhul, Zeme, Kukish language groups, amongst many others.
Great Andamanese language family
- the Great Andamanese, comprising a number of extinct languages apart from one highly endangered language with a dwindling number of speakers.
- the Ongan family of the southern Andaman Islands, comprising two extant languages, Önge and Jarawa, and one extinct tongue, Jangil.
The only language found in the Indian mainland and considered as a language isolate is Nahali.:337 The status of Nahali is ambiguous, having been considered as a distinct Austro-Asiatic tongue, as a dialect of Munda language and also as being a "thieves' argot" rather than a legitimate language.
The other language isolates found in the rest of South Asia include Burushaski, a tongue spoken in Gilgit–Baltistan (northern Pakistan), Kusunda (in western Nepal) and Vedda (in Sri Lanka).:283 The validity of the Great Andamanese language group as a language family has been questioned and it has been considered as a language isolate by some authorities.:283
The language families in India are not necessarily related to the various ethnic groups in India, specifically the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian people. The languages within each family have been influenced to a large extent by both families. For example, many of the South Indian languages; specifically Malayalam and Telugu, have been highly influenced by Sanskrit (an Indo-Aryan language). The current vocabulary of those languages include between 70-80% of Sanskritised content in their purest form.
Urdu has also had a significant influence on many of today's Indian languages. Many North Indian languages have lost much of their Sanskritised base (50% current vocabulary) to a more Urdu-based form. In terms of the written script, most Indian languages, except the Tamil script nearly perfectly accommodate the Sanskrit language. South Indian languages have adopted new letters to write various Indo-Aryan based words as well, and have added new letters to their native alphabets as the languages began to mix and influence each other.
Though various Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages may seem mutually exclusive when first heard, there is a much deeper underlying influence that both language families have had on each other down to a linguistic science. There is proof of the intermixing of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan languages through the pockets of Dravidian based languages on remote areas of Pakistan, and interspersed areas of North India. In addition, there is a whole science regarding the tonal and cultural expression within the languages that are quite standard across India. Languages may have different vocabulary, but various hand and tonal gestures within two unrelated languages can still be common due to cultural amalgamations between invading people and the natives over time; in this case, the Indo-Aryan peoples and the native Dravidian people.
The Indian constitution, in 1950, declared Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the union. Article 343 (1) of the Constitution of India, "The Official Language of the Union government shall be Hindi in Devanagari script.":212 Unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the constitution came into effect, i.e. on 26 January 1965.:212 The prospect of the changeover, however, led to much alarm in the non Hindi-speaking areas of India, especially in South India whose native tongues are not related to Hindi. As a result, Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act in 1963, which provided for the continued use of English for official purposes along with Hindi, even after 1965.
Hindi, written in Devanagari script, is the most prominent language spoken in the country. In the 2001 census, 258 million people in India reported Hindi to be their native language. This figure not only included Hindu speakers of Hindustani, but also people who identify as native speakers of related languages who consider their speech to be a dialect of Hindi, the Hindi belt. Hindi (or Hindustani) is the native language of most people living in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan.
Hindustani, evolved from khari boli, a prominent tongue of Mughal times, which itself evolved from Apabhraṃśa, an intermediary transition stage from Prakrit , from which the major North Indian Indo-Aryan languages have evolved.
Varieties of Hindi spoken in India include Braj Bhasha, Haryanvi, Bundeli, Kannauji, Hindustani, Awadhi, Bagheli and Chhattisgarhi. By virtue of its being a lingua franca, Hindi has also developed regional dialects such as Bambaiya Hindi in Mumbai, Dakhini (also called Hyderabadi Urdu) in parts of Telangana and Bangalori Urdu in Bangalore, Karnataka. In addition, a trade language, Andaman Creole Hindi has also developed in the Andaman Islands.
In addition, by use in popular culture such as songs and films, Hindi also serves as a lingua franca across much of India. However, there have been anti-Hindi agitations in South India and there is opposition in non-Hindi belt states towards any perceived imposition of Hindi in these areas.
Hindi is widely taught both as a primary language and language of instruction, and, as a second tongue. Increasingly, it has been displaced by English, both as the medium of instruction and as the second language. In non-Hindi states, Hindi may be relegated to third language or lower status.
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British colonial legacy has resulted in English being the primary language for government, business and education. English, along with Hindi, is one of the two languages permitted in the Constitution of India for business in Parliament. Despite the fact that Hindi has official Government patronage and serves as a lingua franca over large parts of India, there is considerable opposition to the use of Hindi in the southern states of India, and English has emerged as a de facto lingua franca over much of India.
Until the Twenty-First Amendment of the Constitution in 1967, the country recognised 14 official regional languages. The Eighth Schedule and the Seventy-First Amendment provided for the inclusion of Sindhi, Konkani, Meiteilon and Nepali, thereby increasing the number of official regional languages of India to 18. The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, as of 1 December 2007, lists 22 languages,:330 which are given in the table below together with the speaking population and the regions where they are used.
The government of India has given the scheduled languages the status of official language. The number of languages given this status has increased through the political process.
Some languages with many speakers still do not have official language status, the largest of these being Bhili/Bhiladi with some 9.6 million native speakers (ranked 14th), followed by Garhwali with 2.9 million speakers, Gondi with 2.7 million speakers (ranked 18th) and Khandeshi with 2.1 million speakers (ranked 22nd). On the other hand, 2 languages with fewer than 2 million native speakers have recently been included in the 8th Schedule for mostly political reasons: Manipuri/Meitei with 1.5 million speakers (ranked 25th) and Bodo with 1.4 million speakers (ranked 26th).
Article 345 of the constitution authorizes the several states of India to adopt as "official languages" of that state — which people of that state can then use in all dealings with all branches of the local, state and federal governments — either Hindi or any one or more of the languages spoken in that state.
The individual states, the borders of most of which are or were drawn on socio-linguistic lines, can legislate their own official languages, depending on their linguistic demographics. The official languages chosen reflect the predominant as well as politically significant languages spoken in that state. Certain states having a linguistically defined territory may have only the predominant language in that state as its official language, examples being Karnataka and Gujarat, which have Kannada and Gujarati as their sole official language respectively. Telangana, with a sizeable Urdu-speaking Muslim population, has two languages, Telugu and Urdu, as its official languages. Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir has Kashmiri, Urdu, and Dogri as its official languages.
- Lists of Official Languages of States and Union Territories of India
|No.||Union Territory||Official Languages||Other officially recognised languages|
|1.||Andaman and Nicobar Islands||English||Bengali, Hindi Tamil and Telugu|
|2.||Chandigarh||English||Punjabi and Hindi|
|3.||Dadra and Nagar Haveli||English||Gujarati and Hindi|
|4.||Daman and Diu||Konkani, Marathi and Gujarati|
|7.||Puducherry||Tamil, French, English||Malayalam (for Mahe), Telugu (for Yanam)|
In addition to states and union territories, India has autonomous administrative regions which may be permitted to select their own official language – a case in point being the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam which has declared the Bodo language as official for the region, in addition to Assamese and English already in use. and Bengali in the Barak Valley, as its official languages.
Prominent languages of India
Besides Hindi, the following languages (arranged in descending order as regards numbers of speakers) are spoken by more than 25 million Indians - Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese (Asamiya).
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Telugu is one of the prominent languages in India. It is the only language in India that is spoken prominently in many states other than Hindi and Bengali. Telugu is spoken predominantly in states Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and union territory of Yanam. It is one of the official languages of above said territories.
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Tamil, which is also spelt as thamizh, is a Dravidian language predominantly spoken in Tamil Nadu and parts of Sri Lanka. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and was the first Indian language to be declared a classical language by the Government of India in 2004.
Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world. It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past."
After independence, Modern Standard Urdu, the Persianised register of Hindustani became the national language of Pakistan. During British colonial times, a knowledge of Hindustani or Urdu was must for officials. Hindustani was made the second language of British Indian Empire after English and considered as the language of administration. The British introduced the use of Roman script for Hindustani as well as other languages. Urdu had 70 million speakers in India (as per the Census of 2001), and, along with Hindi, is one of the 22 officially recognised regional languages of India and also an official language in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal that have significant Muslim populations. Some dialects Of Hindi, especially those that arose in Muslim-dominated areas, such as Hyderabad, have strong influence of Urdu.
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In 2004, the Government of India declared that languages that met certain requirements could be accorded the status of a "Classical Language in India". Languages thus far declared to be Classical are Tamil (in 2004), Sanskrit (in 2005), Telugu (in 2008), Kannada (in 2008), Malayalam (in 2013) and Oriya - now called Odia (in 2014).
In a 2006 press release, Minister of Tourism & Culture Ambika Soni told the Rajya Sabha the following criteria were laid down to determine the eligibility of languages to be considered for classification as a "Classical Language",
High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500–2000 years; a body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers; the literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community; the classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.
As per Government of India's Resolution No. 2-16/2004-US(Akademies) dated 1 November 2004, the benefits that will accrue to a language declared as "Classical Language" are
- Two major international awards for scholars of eminence in Classical Indian Languages are awarded annually.
- A 'Centre of Excellence for Studies in Classical Languages' is set up.
- The University Grants Commission be requested to create, to start with at least in the Central Universities, a certain number of Professional Chairs for Classical Languages for scholars of eminence in Classical Indian Languages.
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Sanskrit is spoken by a very small portion of the Indian population. It has been given the status of official language as well as classical language by the Government of India. Linguistically, Sanskrit has been the root of the most of the major languages in India.
Other local languages and dialects
The 2001 census identified the following native languages having more than one million speakers. All of them are dialects/variants grouped under Hindi or Oriya.
|Languages||No. of native speakers|
India has several languages in use; choosing any single language as an official language presents problems to all those whose "mother tongue" is different. However, all the boards of education across India, recognize the need for training people to one common language. There are complaints that in North India, non-Hindi speakers have language trouble. Similarly, there are complaints that North Indians have to undergo difficulties on account of language when traveling to South India. It is common to hear of incidents that result due to friction between those who strongly believe in the chosen official language, and those who follow the thought that the chosen language(s) do not take into account everyone's preferences. Local official language commissions have been established and various steps are being taken in a direction to reduce tensions and friction.
There are conflicts over linguistic rights in India. The first major linguistic conflict, known as the Anti-Hindi agitations of Tamil Nadu, took place in Tamil Nadu against the implementation of Hindi as the official language of India. Political analysts consider this as a major factor in bringing DMK to power and leading to the ousting and nearly total elimination of the Congress party in Tamil Nadu. Strong cultural pride based on language is also found in other Indian states such as Bengal, Maharashtra and in Karnataka. To express disapproval of the imposition of Hindi on its states' people as a result of the central government, the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka made the state languages mandatory in educational institutions.
In Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala, in the majority of the schools, students have to learn English and one chosen regional language (Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, or Malayalam) as the main language subjects, and learn another language (Telugu, Hindi, or Special English) as a special language subject.
The Government of India attempts to assuage these conflicts with various campaigns, coordinated by the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, a branch of the Department of Higher Education, Language Bureau, and the Ministry of Human Resource Development.[clarification needed]
Most languages in India are written in Brahmi-derived scripts, such as Devanagari, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Odia, Eastern Nagari - Assamese/Bengali, etc., though Urdu is written in a script derived from Arabic, and a few minor languages such as Santali use independent scripts.
Various Indian languages have their own scripts. Hindi, Marathi and Angika are languages written using the Devanagari script. Most languages are written using a script specific to them, such as Assamese (Asamiya) with Asamiya, Bengali with Bengali, Punjabi with Gurmukhi, Odia with Oriya script, Gujarati with Gujarati, etc. Urdu and sometimes Kashmiri, Saraiki and Sindhi are written in modified versions of the Perso-Arabic script. With this one exception, the scripts of Indian languages are native to India. Languages like Kodava and Tulu that do not have a script have taken up the scripts of the local official languages as their own and are written in the Kannada script.
The Halmidi inscription, the oldest known inscription in the Kannada script and language. The inscription is dated to the 450 CE - 500 CE period.
- List of languages by number of native speakers in India
- List of endangered languages in India
- National Translation Mission
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- Languages and Scripts of India
- Typing in Indian Languages
- Diversity of Languages in India
- A comprehensive federal government site that offers complete info on Indian Languages
- Technology Development for Indian Languages, Government of India