Languages of India

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Languages of India
South Asian Language Families.jpg
Language families of the Indian sub-continent.
Nihali, Kusunda, and Thai languages are not shown.
Official languages English • Assamese • Bengali • Bodo • Dogri • Gujarati • Hindi • 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)

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.[1][2] Other languages spoken in India belong to the Austroasiatic, Tibeto-Burman, a few minor language families and isolates.[3]: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 Constitution of India does not give any language the status of national language.[4][5] The official languages of the Union Government of the Republic of India are Hindi in the Devanagari script and English.[6] 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 Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and 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.[7] Two contact languages have played an important role in the history of India: Persian[8] and English.[9] Hindi, the most widely spoken language in India today, serves as a lingua franca for much of the country.


The Hindi-belt, including Hindi-related languages such as Rajasthani and Bihari.

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 1000 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, evolved into distinct, recognisable languages in the New Indo-Aryan Age.[10]

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.[8][11]

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.[12][13] 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.[14] Though Malayalam and Telugu are Dravidian in origin, over eighty percent of their lexicon is borrowed from Sanskrit.[15][16][17][18] The Telugu script can reproduce the full range of Sanskrit phonetics without losing any of the text's originality,[19] whereas the Malayalam script includes graphemes capable of representing all the sounds of Sanskrit and all Dravidian languages.[20][21] The Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman languages of North-East India also have long independent histories.[citation needed]

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).[22]


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.[23] However, the results were skewed due to ambiguities in distinguishing between "dialect" and "language",[23] 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.[24]

Different sources give widely differing figures, primarily based on how the terms "language" and "dialect" are defined and grouped. Ethnologue, produced 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:- [25][26]

  • 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 nationwide survey, which the organisation claims to be the biggest linguistic survey in India.[27]

The People of India (POI) project of Anthropological Survey of India reported 325 languages which are used for in-group communication by 5,633 Indian communities.[28]

Census of India figures[edit]

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 of the 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.

1961 Census

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.[29] 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.[29] 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".[29]

1991 Census

The 1991 census recognizes 1,576 classified mother tongues.[30] 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).[30][31]

2001 Census

According to the most recent census of 2001, there are 1365 rationalised mother tongues, 234 identifiable mother-tongues and 122 major languages.[7] 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.[32] 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.[33][34]

2011 Census

The language-related data results of the 2011 Census have not yet been released by the Government of India.[35]

Language families[edit]

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.[3]:283 The languages of India belong to several language families, the most important of which are :[36]

Indo-Aryan language family[edit]

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.[1] The most widely spoken languages of this group are Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese and Oriya.[37] 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.[38]

Dravidian language family[edit]

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.[2] 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.[2] Besides the mainstream population, Dravidian languages are also spoken by small scheduled tribe communities, such as the Oraon and Gond tribes.[39] Only two Dravidian languages are exclusively spoken outside India, Brahui in Pakistan and Dhangar, a dialect of Kurukh, in Nepal.[40]

Austroasiatic language family[edit]

Families with smaller numbers of speakers are Austroasiatic and numerous small Tibeto-Burman languages, with some 10 and 6 million speakers, respectively, together 5% of the population.[41]

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.[3]:456–457

Tibeto-Burman language family[edit]

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".[3]: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)[42][43] 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[edit]

The extinct and endangered languages of the Andaman Islands form a fifth family- the Great Andamanese language family, comprising two families, namely:[44]

  • 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.

In addition, Sentinelese, an unattested language of the Andaman Islands, is generally considered to be related and part of the language family.[44]

Language isolates[edit]

The only language found in the Indian mainland and considered as a language isolate is Nahali.[3]: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.[45][46]

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).[3]: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.[3]:283[47][48]

In addition, a Bantu language, Sidi, was spoken until the mid-20th century in Gujarat.[3]:528


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.

Official languages[edit]

National level[edit]

Prior to Independence, in British India, English was the sole language used for administrative purposes as well as for higher education purposes.[49]

In 1946, the issue of national language was a bitterly contested subject in the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly of India, specifically what should be the language in which the Constitution of India is written and the language spoken during the proceedings of Parliament and thus deserving of the epithet "national". Members belonging to the northern parts of India insisted that the Constitution be drafted in Hindi with the unofficial translation in English. This was not agreed to by the drafting Committee on the grounds that English was much better to craft the nuanced prose on constitutional subjects. The efforts to make Hindi the pre-eminent language were bitterly resisted by the members from those parts of India where Hindi was not spoken natively. Eventually, a compromise was reached with Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the union but for "fifteen years from the commencement of the Constitution, the English Language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement".[49]

Article 343 (1) of the Constitution of India states "The Official Language of the Union government shall be Hindi in Devanagari script."[50]:212[51] 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.[50]:212[51]

As the date for changeover approached, however, there was much alarm in the non Hindi-speaking areas of India, especially in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal, Karnataka, Puducherry and Andhra Pradesh. Accordingly, Jawaharlal Nehru ensured the enactment of the Official Languages Act, 1963,[52][53] which provided that English "may" still be used with Hindi for official purposes, even after 1965.[49] The wording of the text proved unfortunate in that while Nehru understood that "may" meant shall, politicians championing the cause of Hindi thought it implied exactly the opposite.[49]

In the event, as 1965 approached, India's new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri prepared to make Hindi paramount with effect from 28 January 1965. When asked by C. N. Annadurai to postpone the imposition, Shastri refused. This led to widespread agitation, riots, self-immolations and suicides in Tamil Nadu. The split of Congress politicians from the South from their party stance, the resignation of two Union ministers from the South and the increasing threat to the country's unity forced Shastri to concede.[49][54]

As a result, the proposal was dropped,[55][56] and the Act itself was amended in 1967 to provide that the use of English would not be ended until a resolution to that effect was passed by the legislature of every state that had not adopted Hindi as its official language, and by each house of the Indian Parliament.[52]

The Constitution of India does not give any language the status of National Language.[4][5]


Main article: Hindi language

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.[7] 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.[57]

"Modern Standard Hindi", a standardised is one of the official languages of India. In addition, it is one of only two languages used for business in Parliament.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


Main article: English language

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.[citation needed]

Scheduled languages[edit]

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,[50]:330 which are given in the table below together with the speaking population and the regions where they are used.[58]

Language Family Speakers
(in millions, 2001)
Assamese (Asamiya) Indo-Aryan, North Eastern 013 13 Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
Bengali Indo-Aryan, Eastern 083 83 West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Jharkhand[59]
Bodo Tibeto-Burman 0014 1.4 Assam
Dogri Indo-Aryan, Northwestern 0023 2.3 Jammu and Kashmir
Gujarati Indo-Aryan, Western 046 46 Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Gujarat
Hindi Indo-Aryan, Central 258 258–422[60] Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, the National capital territory of Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand
Kannada Dravidian 055 55 Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andrapradesh, Maharashtra
Kashmiri Indo-Aryan, Dardic 0055 5.5 Jammu and Kashmir
Konkani Indo-Aryan, Southern 0024 2.5 Goa
Maithili Indo-Aryan, Eastern 012 12.2 Bihar
Malayalam Dravidian 033 33 Kerala, Lakshadweep, Puducherry
Manipuri (includes Meitei) Tibeto-Burman 0015 1.5 Manipur
Marathi Indo-Aryan, Southern 072 72 Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu
Nepali Indo-Aryan, Northern 0029 2.9 Sikkim, West Bengal
Oriya Indo-Aryan, Eastern 032 32 Odisha
Punjabi Indo-Aryan, Northwestern 029 29 Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand
Sanskrit Indo-Aryan 00001 0.001 Uttarakhand
Santali Munda 0065 6.5 Santhal tribals of the Chota Nagpur Plateau (comprising the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha)
Sindhi Indo-Aryan, Northwestern 0025 2.5 Sindh (now in Pakistan)
Tamil Dravidian 061 61 Tamil Nadu, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Puducherry
Telugu Dravidian 074 74 Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Urdu Indo-Aryan, Central 052 52 Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh

The government of India has given the scheduled languages the status of official language.[citation needed] 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).

State level[edit]

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. State Official language(s) Other officially recognised language(s)
1. Andhra Pradesh Telugu[61]
2. Arunachal Pradesh English[62]:65
3. Assam Assamese, English[63] Bengali in the three districts of Barak Valley;[64] Bodo in the Bodoland Territorial Council.[65]
4. Bihar Hindi[66] Urdu (for specified areas and purposes)[51]
5. Chhattisgarh Hindi[62]:pg 29[67] Chattisgarhi[68]
6. Goa Konkani[69] Marathi,[62]:27[70] English[71]
7. Gujarat Gujarati[62]:28
8. Haryana Hindi[72] Punjabi[73]
9. Himachal Pradesh Hindi[74] English[62]:13
10. Jammu and Kashmir Urdu English[75]
11. Jharkhand Hindi Santali, Oriya and Bengali[62]
12. Karnataka Kannada
13. Kerala Malayalam English[76]
14. Madhya Pradesh Hindi[77]
15. Maharashtra Marathi
16. Manipur Meiteilon (Manipuri)[78] English[62]
17. Meghalaya English[79] Khasi and Garo[80]
18. Mizoram Mizo
19. Nagaland English[62]
20. Odisha Oriya
21. Punjab Punjabi
22. Rajasthan Hindi
23. Sikkim Nepali[81][82]
24. Tamil Nadu Tamil English[62]
25. Telangana Telugu and Urdu[citation needed]
26. Tripura Bengali and Kokborok[83][84]
27. Uttar Pradesh Hindi Urdu[85]
28. Uttarakhand Hindi Sanskrit[86]
29. West Bengal Bengali English, Urdu[87] and Nepali[62]

Union Territories[edit]

No. Union Territory Official Languages Other officially recognised languages
1. Andaman and Nicobar Islands Hindi, English Bengali, Tamil and Telugu
2. Chandigarh English[88] Punjabi and Hindi
3. Dadra and Nagar Haveli English[89] Gujarati and Hindi[90]
4. Daman and Diu Konkani, Marathi and Gujarati[62]
5. Delhi Hindi Punjabi and Urdu[91]
6. Lakshadweep English[62] Malayalam, Divehi
7. Puducherry Tamil, French, English[62][92][93] Malayalam (for Mahe), Telugu (for Yanam)[94]

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.[65] and Bengali in the Barak Valley,[64] as its official languages.

Prominent languages of India[edit]

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).[95][96]


Main article: Bengali language

Native to the Bengal region, comprising the nation of Bangladesh and the states of West Bengal, Tripura and southern Assam, Bengali is the fifth most spoken language in the world. Bengali developed from Abahatta, a derivative of Apabhramsha, itself derived from Magadhi Prakrit. The modern Bengali vocabulary contains the vocabulary base from Magadhi Prakrit and Pali, also borrowings & reborrowings from Sanskrit and other major borrowings from Persian, Arabic, Austroasiatic languages and other languages in contact with. Like most Indian languages, Bengali has a number of dialects. Interestingly it exhibits diglossia, with the literary and standard form differing greatly from the colloquial speech of the regions that identify with the language.[97] Bengali language has developed a rich cultural base spanning art, music, literature and religion. There have been many movements in defense of this language and in 1999 UNESCO declared 21 Feb as the International Mother Language Day in commemoration of the Bengali language movement in 1952.[98]


Main article: Telugu language

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.


Main article: Marathi language


Main article: Tamil language

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.[99][100] It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past."[101]


Main article: Urdu language

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.[citation needed]


Main article: Gujarati language

Gujarati is an Indo-Aryan language. It is native to the west Indian region of Gujarat. Gujarati is part of the greater Indo-European language family. Gujarati is descended from Old Gujarati (c. 1100 – 1500 AD), the same source as that of Rajasthani. Gujarati is the chief language in the Indian state of Gujarat. It is also an official language in the union territories of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 4.5% of population of India (1.21 billion according to 2011 census) speaks Gujarati. This amounts to 54.6 million speakers in India.[102]


Main article: Kannada language

Kannada language (also called Kanarese) is an autonomous Dravidian language which branched off from the Proto Kannada-Tamil sub group around 500 B.C.E according to the Dravidian scholar Zvelebil.[103] According to the Dravidian scholars Steever and Krishnamurthy, the study of Kannada language is usually divided into three linguistic phases: Old (450–1200 CE), Middle (1200–1700 CE) and Modern (1700–present).[104][105] The earliest written records are from the 5th century,[106] and the earliest available literature in rich manuscript (Kavirajamarga) is from c. 850.[107][108] Kannada language has the second oldest written tradition of all vernacular languages of India.[109][110] Current estimates of the total number of epigraphs written in Kannada range from 25,000 by the scholar Sheldon Pollock to over 30,000 by the Sahitya Akademi,[111] making Karnataka state "one of the most densely inscribed pieces of real estate in the world".[112] According to Garg and Shipely, more than a thousand notable writers have contributed to the wealth of the language.[113][114]


Main article: Malayalam language


Main article: Oriya language

Oriya (officially spelled Odia)[115] is an Indo-Aryan language. Oriya is the primary language in the Indian state or state of Odisha. Native speakers comprise 80% of the population in Odisha.[116] Odisha is thought to have originated from Magadhi Prakrit similar to Ardha Magadhi, a language spoken in eastern India over 1,500 years ago. The history of Oriya language can be divided to Old Oriya[117] (7th century–1200), Early Middle Oriya (1200–1400), Middle Oriya (1400–1700), Late Middle Oriya (1700–1850) and Modern Oriya (1850 till present day).


Main article: Punjabi language


Main article: Assamese language

Asamiya or Assamese language is most popular in the state of Assam and Brahmaputra Valley.[96] It's an Eastern Indo-Aryan language having more that 10M speakers as per world estimates by Encarta.[95]

Classical languages[edit]

In 2004, the Government of India declared that languages that met certain requirements could be accorded the status of a "Classical Language in India".[118] Languages thus far declared to be Classical are Tamil (in 2004),[119] Sanskrit (in 2005),[120] Telugu (in 2008), Kannada (in 2008),[121] Malayalam (in 2013),[122] Oriya (in 2014)[123][124] and Marathi.[125]

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",[126]

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.

The Government has been criticised for not including Pali as a classical language, as experts have argued it fits all the above criteria.[127]


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

  1. Two major international awards for scholars of eminence in Classical Indian Languages are awarded annually.
  2. A 'Centre of Excellence for Studies in Classical Languages' is set up.
  3. 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.[128]

Other local languages and dialects[edit]

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.[58]

Languages No. of native speakers[58]
Bhojpuri 33,099,497
Rajasthani 18,355,613
Magadh/Magahi 13,978,565
Chhattisgarhi 13,260,186
Haryanvi 7,997,192
Marwari 7,936,183
Malvi 5,565,167
Mewari 5,091,697
Khorth/Khotta 4,725,927
Bundeli/Bundelkhan 3,072,147
Bagheli/Baghel Khan 2,865,011
Pahari 2,832,825
Laman/Lambadi 2,707,562
Awadhi 2,529,308
Harauti 2,462,867
Garhwali 2,267,314
Nimadi 2,148,146
Sadan/Sadri 2,044,776
Kumauni 2,003,783
Dhundhari 1,871,130
Surgujia 1,458,533
Bagri Rajasthani 1,434,123
Banjari 1,259,821
Nagpuria (Varhadi) 1,242,586
Surajpuri 1,217,019
Kangri 1,122,843

Practical problems[edit]

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.[129] 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.[130] Local official language commissions have been established and various steps are being taken in a direction to reduce tensions and friction.[citation needed]

Language conflicts[edit]

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.[131] 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.[132]

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.[citation needed]

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][citation needed]

Writing systems[edit]

Main articles: Indic scripts and Nasta'liq script

Most languages in India are written in Brahmi-derived scripts, such as Devanagari, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Oriya, 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.[citation needed]

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)[133][134][135] with Asamiya,[136] Bengali with Bengali, Punjabi with Gurmukhi, Oriya 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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


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