Languages of India

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Languages of India
South Asian Language Families.jpg
Official languages Hindi, (English as an additional language in government), 20 other officially recognized languages in India listed on the 8th Schedule.
Regional languages
Main foreign languages
Sign languages

There are several languages in India belonging to different language families, the major ones being the Indo-Aryan languages spoken by 75% of Indians, the Dravidian languages spoken by 20% of Indians and other languages by rest of Indians.[1][2] Other languages spoken in India belong to the Austroasiatic, Sino-Tibetan, a few other 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,[7] 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, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Odia.

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.[8] Two contact languages have played an important role in the history of India: Persian[9] and English.[10]Persian was the court language during the Mughal period in India. It reigned as an administrative language for several centuries until the era of British colonization.[11] Up till now, English is a lingua franca in India. Hindi, the most widely spoken language in India today, serves as the lingua franca across much of North and Central India.[12] However, there have been anti-Hindi agitations in South India, most notably in the state of Tamil Nadu (anti-Hindi agitations of Tamil Nadu). There is also opposition in non-Hindi belt states towards any perceived imposition of Hindi in these areas.[13][14]


Indo-Aryan language subgroups (Urdu is included under Hindi)

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 Odia, evolved into distinct, recognisable languages in the New Indo-Aryan Age.[15]

Persian or Pharsi was brought into India by the Ghaznavi and other Turko-Afghan dynasties as the court language. Persians influenced the art, history and literature of the region for more than 500 years, resulting in the Persianisation of many Indian tongues, mainly lexically. 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.[9][16]

Each of the northern Indian languages had different influences. For example, Hindustani was strongly influenced by Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic, leading to the emergence of Modern Standard Hindi and Modern Standard Urdu as registers of the Hindustani language.[17][18] Modern Standard Hindi is recognised as the official language of India while Urdu is a scheduled language.


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.[19] However, the results were skewed due to ambiguities in distinguishing between "dialect" and "language",[19] 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.[20]

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:- [21][22]

  • 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.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25] However, the declaring individuals often mixed names of languages with those of dialects, subdialects and dialect clusters or even castes, professions, religions, localities, regions, countries and nationalities.[25] 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".[25]

1991 Census

The 1991 census recognizes 1,576 classified mother tongues.[26] 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).[26][27]

2001 Census

According to the most recent census of 2001, there are 1365 rationalised mother tongues, 234 identifiable mother tongues and 122 major languages.[8] 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.[28] 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.[29]

2011 Census

The language-related data results of the 2011 Census have not yet been released by the Government of India.[30]

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 :[31]

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, Sinhalese in Sri Lanka and Odia.[32] 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.

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, Kannada and Malayalam.[2] Besides the mainstream population, Dravidian languages are also spoken by small scheduled tribe communities, such as the Oraon and Gond tribes.[33] Only two Dravidian languages are exclusively spoken outside India, Brahui in Pakistan and Dhangar, a dialect of Kurukh, in Nepal.[34]

Austroasiatic language family[edit]

Families with smaller numbers of speakers are Austroasiatic and numerous small Sino-Tibetan languages, with some 10 and 6 million speakers, respectively, together 5% of the population.[35]

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

Sino-Tibetan language family[edit]

The Sino-Tibetan 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

Sino-Tibetan 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)[36][37] Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram. Sino-Tibetan 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.

Tai-Kadai language family[edit]

Ahom language belonging to Southwestern Tai language had been once the dominant language of Ahom Kingdom in modern-day Assam but had been replaced later by Kamarupi language, the ancient form of Assamese language. Nowadays, small Tai communities and their languages remain in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh together with Sino-Tibetans, e.g. Tai Phake, Tai Aiton and Tai Khamti language, which are similar to Shan language of Shan state of Myanmar, Dai language in Yunnan of China, Lao language of Laos, Thai language of Thailand and Zhuang language in Guangxi of China.

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:[38]

  • 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.[38]

Language isolates[edit]

The only language found in the Indian mainland that is considered a language isolate is Nahali.[3]:337 The status of Nahali is ambiguous, having been considered as a distinct Austro-Asiatic language, as a dialect of Munda language and also as being a "thieves' argot" rather than a legitimate language.[39][40]

The other language isolates found in the rest of South Asia include Burushaski, a language 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 a language isolate by some authorities.[3]:283[41][42]

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]

The Hindi languages, including Hindi-related languages such as Rajasthani and Bihari(in dark grey color, also additionally labeled with Hindi).

Prior to Independence, in British India, English was the sole language used for administrative purposes as well as for higher education purposes.[13]

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".[13]

Article 343 (1) of the Constitution of India states "The Official Language of the Union government shall be Hindi in Devanagari script."[43]:212[44] 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.[43]:212[44]

The Hindi Belt, where varieties of Hindi in the broadest sense are spoken.
Main article: Hindi language

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,[45][46] which provided that English "may" still be used with Hindi for official purposes, even after 1965.[13] 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.[13]

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.[13][14]

As a result, the proposal was dropped,[47][48] 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.[45]

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


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

Hindi, written in Devanagari script, is the most prominent language spoken in the country. In the 2001 census, 422 million (422,048,642) people in India reported Hindi to be their native language.[49] 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.[50]

"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 North India.[citation needed]

Hindi is widely taught both as a primary language and language of instruction, and, as a second tongue.


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 was 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 of India 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,[43]:330 which are given in the table below together with the speaking population and the regions where they are used.[51]

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 and Nicobar Islands, Jharkhand[52]
Bodo Sino-Tibetan 0014 1.4 Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya
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[53] Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand
Kannada Dravidian 055 55 Karnataka
Kashmiri Indo-Aryan, Dardic 0055 5.5 Jammu and Kashmir
Konkani Indo-Aryan, Southern 0024 2.5 Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka
Maithili Indo-Aryan, Eastern 012 12.2 Bihar
Malayalam Dravidian 033 33 Kerala, Lakshadweep
Manipuri (includes Meitei) Sino-Tibetan 0015 1.5 Manipur
Marathi Indo-Aryan, Southern 072 72 Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu
Nepali Indo-Aryan, Northern 0029 2.9 Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam
Odia Indo-Aryan, Eastern 032 32 Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh
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, Rajasthan, Kutch, Gujarat)
Tamil Dravidian 077 61 Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh
Telugu Dravidian 080 74 Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, yanam(Puducherry), Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha
Urdu Indo-Aryan, Central 052 52 Jammu and Kashmir, Telangana, Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh

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

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.[54] and Bengali in the Barak Valley,[55] 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, Odia, Punjabi, Assamese (Asamiya).[56][57]


Main article: Bengali language

Native to the Bengal region, comprising the nation of Bangladesh and the states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Jharkhand and Bihar, 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.[58] 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.[59]


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. It is only language in India that has official status in more than one state, 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. It is also spoken by significant minorities in the Andaman and Nicobar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry, and by the Sri Lankan Gypsy people. It is one of six languages designated a classical language of India.[7][8] Telugu ranks third by the number of native speakers in India (74 million) (2001 Census),[9] thirteenth in the Ethnologue list of most-spoken languages worldwide[10] and is the most widely spoken Dravidian language. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India.

In loans from Sanskrit, Telugu retains some of its features that have subsequently been lost in some of its daughter languages such as Hindi and Bengali, especially in the pronunciation of some vowels and consonants.


According to the Russian linguist Andronov, Telugu split from Proto-Dravidian languages between 1500–1000 BC.

Earliest records[edit] Inscriptions containing Telugu words can be dated back to 400 BC to 100 BC. They were discovered in Bhattiprolu in Guntur district. The English translation of one inscription reads, "gift of the slab by venerable Midikilayakha".

Some Telugu words appear in the Prakrit anthology of poems (the Gāhā Sattasaī) collected during the Satavahana dynasty.


Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language.It is the official language and co-official language in Maharashtra and Goa states of Western India respectively, and is one of the 23 official languages of India. There were 73 million speakers in 2001; Marathi ranks 20th in the list of most spoken languages in the world. Marathi has the fourth largest number of native speakers in India. Marathi has some of the oldest literature of all modern Indo-Aryan languages, dating from about 1200 AD (Mukundraj's Vivek Sindhu from the close of 12th century). The major dialects of Marathi are Standard Marathi and the Varhadi dialect. There are other related languages such as Khandeshi, Dangi, Vadvali and Samavedi. Malvani Konkani has been heavily influenced by Marathi varieties.Marathi is one of several languages that descend from Maharashtri Prakrit. Further change led to the Apabhraṃśa languages like Old Marathi.

Marathi is the official language of Maharashtra and co-official language in the union territories of Daman and Diu[7] and Dadra and Nagar Haveli.[8] In Goa, Konkani is the sole official language; however, Marathi may also be used for all official purposes.

Over a period of many centuries the Marathi language and people came into contact with many other languages and dialects. The primary influence of Prakrit, Maharashtri, Kannada, Apabhraṃśa and Sanskrit is understandable. At least 50% of the words in Marathi are either taken or derived from Sanskrit. Many scholars claim that Sanskrit has derived many words from Marathi. Marathi has also shared directions, vocabulary and grammar with languages such as Indian Dravidian languages, and foreign languages such as Persian, Arabic, English and a little from Portuguese.


Main article: Tamil language
15th-century anthology of Tamil religious poem dedicated to lord Ganesha

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.[60][61] It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past.".[62] The two earliest manuscripts from India,[63][64] acknowledged and registered by UNESCO Memory of the World register in 1997 and 2005, were in Tamil.[65]


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 CE), 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.[66]


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.[67] 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).[68][69] The earliest written records are from the 5th century,[70] and the earliest available literature in rich manuscript (Kavirajamarga) is from c. 850.[71][72] Kannada language has the second oldest written tradition of all vernacular languages of India.[73][74] 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,[75] making Karnataka state "one of the most densely inscribed pieces of real estate in the world".[76] According to Garg and Shipely, more than a thousand notable writers have contributed to the wealth of the language.[77][78]


Main article: Malayalam language

Malayalam is classified as a Dravidian Language. It is the official and regional language of the southern state of Kerala.


Main article: Odia language

Odia (formerly spelled Oriya)[79] is an Indo-Aryan language. Odia is the primary language in the Indian state or state of Odisha. Native speakers comprise 80% of the population in Odisha.[80] 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 Odia language can be divided to Old Odia[81] (7th century–1200), Early Middle Odia (1200–1400), Middle Odia (1400–1700), Late Middle Odia (1700–1850) and Modern Odia (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.[57] It's an Eastern Indo-Aryan language having more that 10M speakers as per world estimates by Encarta.[56]

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".[82] Languages thus far declared to be Classical are Tamil (in 2004),[83] Sanskrit (in 2005),[84] Kannada (in 2008), Telugu (in 2008),[85] Malayalam (in 2013),[86] and Odia (in 2014).[87][88] 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",[89]

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.[90]


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.[91]

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 Odia.[51]

Languages No. of native speakers[51]
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.[92] 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.[93] 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.[94] 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.[95]

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, 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.[citation needed]

Various Indian languages have their own scripts. Hindi, Marathi and Angika are languages written using the Devanagari script. Most major languages are written using a script specific to them, such as Assamese (Asamiya)[96][97][98] with Asamiya,[99] Bengali with Bengali, Punjabi with Gurmukhi, Odia with Odia 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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External links[edit]